Team First Approach Suffers In Today’s Sports Settings
All Justin Crawford ever wanted was a chance.
He had ability.
He kept proving that.
He spent two years playing high school ball in Georgia after playing two in Florida.
In Georgia, let’s just say he showed what he could do. At Hardaway High in Columbus he played quarterback, running back, receiver, safety and when neither the offense nor the defense was on the field, Crawford punted.
In the spring, he was the Georgia Class 5A state long jump champion with a leap of 22-feet, 9-inches.
In the winter, he averaged 12 points a game in basketball.
Crawford’s journey took him to Northwest Mississippi Coummunity College, where he was good enough to set 12 records and lead the football team to its first junior college national championship since 1992.
He also found time to father sons Jaydense and Justin Jr. with wife Kenya.
That was a lot of responsibility and he went at it head on. In Morgantown, to help make ends meet, he even worked at a Taco Bell.
Crawford was the underdog you rooted for.
He played two years at WVU, twice surpassing 1,000 yards, the first back to do that since Noel Devine. He gained 209 yards against Baylor and then, against Oklahoma, had the game of a lifetime with 331 rushing yards, third best in school history.
He seemed fast tracked for the NFL, so much so that he made what was a troubling decision, opting to skip the Mountaineers’ bowl game last season — granted it was a rather meaningless matchup with Utah in Dallas — to prepare for the NFL Combine … and, of course, to see that he finished his senior season without injury.
WVU, playing without Will Grier, its starting quarterback, had no offense, scored just 14 points and gained just 29 yards on the ground without him.
Yet Crawford didn’t hear his name called last weekend when the seven rounds of the NFL draft came and went.
And this brings us to a serious topic in today’s sports world. Too often we hear of professional teams tanking — which is to say not trying in meaningless late season games — to improve their draft position.
Too often we see players sit out games when totally healthy to get ready for playoffs, which is a bit more forgivable, yet is not part of the way previous generations were brought up.
In another life, covering Major League Baseball, I covered the likes of Pete Rose, who played games despite injuries that seemed impossible to play with, and Cal Ripken Jr., who played every day, day after day, year after year until he broke — not an arm or a leg — but Lou Gehrig’s unbreakable record.
It was a sign of honor, it was team first.
Today’s world has become far too individualistic. The ruination of team sports as we know them was the invention of fantasy sports, where fans began rooting not for teams but for certain players, even rooting against their favorite teams because they had the quarterback or pitcher on their fantasy team that was facing their favorite team.
It is understandable how Crawford, a college kid who had to fight for everything he had, who was raising a family, would want to protect his big shot at the National Football League, but it also is unfair to his teammates, to his fans … to players themselves trying to make a name for themselves and held back by his absence in such a game.
Knowing this, I asked John Conte, the one-time WVU starting center from Morgantown, his thoughts on players doing this.
This was his reply via Twitter:
”I think the guys understand but all I know is the guys I played with and I would kill for one more game together and I believe these guys who sit out the bowl games will regret their decision down the line. It does seem like it’s a more impersonal now with all the transfers.”
Think about that for a moment. “ … the guys I played with and I would kill for one more game together … “
That is what team is about.
It is togetherness, unity, sacrifice. It is what lifts sports above the society in which we live.
Conte’s other point is a strong point, overlooked often, for today there really is far less a bond due to the transfers, especially the graduate transfers who walk out at what may be their most productive time to do something big …. not for their team, not for their school, but for themselves.
West Virginia fans wish Crawford well, but they know that somewhere inside him there will be that same nagging feeling that Conte experiences, the idea that he would give anything to play one game with his teammates and for his coach and school.