Why Jadeveon Clowney Shouldn't Be Punished For Protecting Himself

“Same sword they knight they gon good night you with, sh*t/that’s even half if they like you, that ain’t even the half of what they might do/don’t believe me ask Michael/see Martin, see Malcolm/you see Biggie, see Pac, see success and its outcome/see Jesus, see Judas/see Caesar, see Brutus, see success is like suicide/Suicide it’s a suicide/if you succeed prepare to be crucified …" —Jay-Z, Grammy Family freestyle.

I don’t know if Jadeveon Clowney is a fan of Jay-Z, but if he’s ever heard this freestyle, I’m sure the words have a much different meaning now than they did the first time he heard them. Clowney popped on to the national radar last year after de-helmeting a Michigan player in the Outback Bowl. After ESPN’s countless replays of that play, talk of him being the greatest defensive player ever, predicting where he could be drafted if he’d have left last year, and many pundits putting him on their list of Heisman candidates, the Clowney hype train was in full swing. It seems the narrative had already been written. Clowney would have a dominant year this year, get drafted as the number 1 overall pick in next year’s draft, then go on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. All would be well and good except for one thing … Clowney, according to many, has been disappointing this year, and some are wondering if all the hype has gone to his head. Me? I think Clowney is simply protecting himself. And if he is, he’s right to do so.

Analysts on ESPN and bloggers alike tear down Clowney for his lack of enthusiasm about the quality of play during what is certainly his last year at South Carolina. I’ve even seen one announcer go so far as to call him an “embarrassment” for sitting out of the game against Arkansas last week. Clowney is being questioned for abandoning his team while the Gamecocks are still in the hunt for a conference championship/BCS game. Experts are saying the injury to his ribs wasn’t enough for him to sit the game out and believe if he’s still able to go, he should be on the field. In short, nobody is happy with how Clowney is carrying himself. It appears as if all of the good will he’s garnered over the last six or so months has dried up.

Most interesting about the opinions on Clowney is how everybody forgets what happened to Clowney’s teammate, Marcus Lattimore. Remember, Marcus Lattimore was making quite a bit of noise, and there were talks of where he would be drafted in the NFL after turning in a stellar freshman season. In 2011, Marcus Lattimore tore his ACL. In 2012, Marcus Lattimore returned to the team and everything had been back to business ... and then he was injured again. In this injury, Marcus Lattimore tore every ligament (ACL, PCL, MCL) in his knee. In both years of Lattimore’s injury, Clowney was his teammate. One can imagine that being able to see a teammate go through injuries up close, having his future ruined before entering the NFL, all while playing for free (there goes that old problem of not paying the players again) had a profound impact on his decision to not take any unnecessary risks.

Lost amongst all of this talking is a simple question: What evidence do we have Clowney is actually taking it easy? Yes, he looked a little out of shape in the game against UNC. Yes, he took the Arkansas game off. No, he’s currently not putting out the same production this year as he did last year. I do think, however, people are overlooking a few things when making their point. For one, teams are creating entire offensive game plans that include making him a non-factor. Secondly, he’s been hobbled by ankle injuries in addition to the bruised ribs he sustained before he sat the Arkanas game out. Thirdly, critics have pointed to Clowney being out of shape and not going full throttle every time he’s on the field. Lest it be forgotten, in addition to battling the injury bug, Clowney is a human being. Playing a rough physical sport. He could simply be tired. The problem is, Clowney simply isn’t living up the standards (or astronomical hype) set for him before the season started. People are tuned in expecting to see a play similar to the one who destroyed Michigan and calling Clowney overrated when they don’t see it. Put simply, Jadeveon Clowney likely isn’t guilty of anything except not being a superhuman on the field. Hardly something that can be solely blamed on him.

In reading through all of the comments on Clowney’s situation, there was someone who compared Clowney’s situation to that of other students. The quote stated how Clowney “taking the year off” was basically the same as a regular student who had gotten a job his junior year and decided to take his senior year off. Here’s the thing. Regular college students can still apply themselves during their senior year without any fear of losing their jobs. There’s a great chance of Clowney being hurt every time he steps on to the field. The average college student isn’t in danger of having someone dive at his or her knees in a dirty play or at risk of having a concussion derail his or her entire career. I understand why someone would make the comparison on a surface level, but it doesn’t hold up upon closer inspection.

In conclusion, I can respect Jadeveon Clowney’s decision to take it easy (if he’s actually doing that) through this year to preserve himself for the NFL. Clowney is in a position to make millions of dollars that can not only change his life, but the people around him. As of right now, he’s playing for FREE at a university that will not be able to provide the same security an NFL contract will. After witnessing the injury history of Marcus Lattimore and being written off for not living up to out-of-this-world expectations, if Clowney is indeed taking it easy I can’t blame him in the least.


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