It is always sad to see a hero fall.
It has happened to me a few times, and for a few different reasons. Mario Lemieux was taken from the game of hockey as he reached his prime to battle illness. Tiger Woods lived a double life and is now a shell of the man who used to make the world shake with the reverberating roars of galleries across America. Those were my sporting heroes.
Men who stood at the pinnacle of their respective professions and made a legitimate difference in people’s lives.
I thought that watching them lose their air of invincibility would be the hardest way to see a career end. I thought that I would never feel so hopeless again, because I would never be as young and impressionable as I was when I let these men become such a large part of my life.
Then again, I thought Jim Tressel was invincible.
Let me start by saying that I will not blame my teammates for any of this. Am I mad at them? Yes. I am mad as Hell at them for some of their actions. I am furious they cast aside our symbols of brotherhood and victory for a few hundred dollars. Those rings and Gold Pants were supposed to remind us forever of what we were a part of. Those rings were supposed to clank off of each other as we shook hands at our 2010 Rose Bowl Champs 25th anniversary banquet. Those rings were a part of our legacy to be carried on to our grandchildren as they looked at us in our rocking chairs and wondered how in the world we used to be champion athletes.
But who am I to tell someone what is important? Show an 18-year-old some money and give him some power, and you have a recipe for disaster. Put yourself in their shoes and tell me you would be able to resist temptation. You can’t. Tell an 18-year-old that he is the greatest enough times, and he will believe you. It comes with the territory.
Coach Tressel made the choice to try to account for his young players’ transgressions and move forward into the season with one of his most talented teams ever. It’s a choice he now undoubtedly regrets.
In my brief time at the top level of the amateur game, I learned one thing to be true without fail: If you succeed, people will hate you. And if people hate you, they will try to bring you down. Look at Auburn. If they went 2-4 through their first six games, would jealous Mississippi State boosters have come out of the woodwork to rat out Cam Newton? Fat chance. And along those lines, there is an even fatter chance that both Gene Chizik and Cam himself knew nothing of Cecil’s plan to shop his son. Examples are abundant. Bob Stoops knew nothing about the tens of thousands of dollars Rhett Bomar took for working a no-show job? Yeah, and I’m dating Beyonce. Dig deep enough anywhere you want, you’re eventually going to hit the dirt.
The difference is that when the others got caught, there was no proof. Coach Tressel reached out to people he thought may have an influence on future decisions made by the players (the quarterback’s “mentor”), and in doing so, sealed his own fate. The nail in his own coffin came in the form of a concerned e-mail.
Do I think Coach Tress was in the dark about the alleged ongoing violations by his players? No way. I always thought that man knew everything. My freshman year he approached me, a mere walk-on back-up punter, and asked me how my parents and two sisters were doing. He referred to them all by name! We had about 120 players on the team and he knew every person in all 120 immediate families. He knew because he cared.
He made a promise to our families to take care of us and he did everything in his power to fulfill that promise. He made us read books that would help us in life, write reports about those books, and present them to the team. The first thing we did every day was reflect and pray. There were constant reminders about how lucky we were to be playing a game for a free education and a chance at a better life. He made us sit through hours of brutal meetings with the compliance office almost every week. Believe me, we all knew what was legal and what was not legal. He brought lawyers and policemen in to warn us about the dangers of drunk driving, nightlife, and hanging out with the wrong people. He put us in hospitals to interact with patients, and introduced us to the military. He taught us that there was more to being an Ohio State football player than just football.
We had a responsibility to present ourselves in a positive way, as we were representatives of so many things so much bigger than ourselves. Apparently, some of us could not handle that honor.
To some of us, there were different priorities, and becoming a man under the watchful eye of millions around the world was too much. George Dohrmann from Sports Illustrated suggested that Jim Tressel lost control of his football team. Quite the contrary. The Ohio State Football culture took over Columbus. Coach was the only reason there WAS any control on this football team. Ask the troubled former receiver. Ask the star quarterback. Our mistakes occurred away from his watchful eye.
Our mistakes had nothing to do with Jim Tressel.
Coach Tressel had one goal for each and every one of his players. He wanted to put us in the best position possible to succeed. Both on the field and off. He taught us that complacency was not an option, and that we could only be the best men that we could be if we learned every single day. He taught us everything he could, and gave us resources to learn what he could not teach us.
I want to look him in the eyes and thank him for the chance he gave me. I want to thank him for the life I live today and the doors he opened for me along the way. I want to thank him for introducing me to BuckeyeNation. I want to thank him for my rings and for my gold pants. I want to thank him for allowing me to live my dream and for the happiest moments of my young life.
He always said, “On your best days be great. On your worst days, be good. Every other day, get better.” Let’s just say that today, the Ohio State community is only good. But thanks to our Coach, we will always be better.
Go Bucks! — Jon Thoma