CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There’s a popular saying that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Actually, it comes from the comic book “Spider-Man.”
Now, college athletes are far from superheroes. But they are cheered and admired. Sometimes they’re held up as a standard for youth to follow.
I’m sure it can be pretty cool, having kids pretend they’re you on the sandlot or the basketball court down the street. It’s not always a role those college athletes actively choose. Sometimes it’s thrust upon them. But it theirs, nonetheless.
And it’s not one they can shed when its convenient, as Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has learned over the last few months.
In the grand scheme, Winston’s latest transgression — making off with some Publix crab legs without paying for them — is minor. And if he were just Jameis Winston, college sophomore, it wouldn’t be a matter of national interest, as it is now. Some folks close to Winston say as much.
“I think some of the things that have happened are regular day-to-day life for the average student at Florida State,” said Otis Leverette, a former NFL player who trained Winston in high school, in a recent USA Today story. “But their life is being viewed on a $10 microscope and his is being viewed on a $3 million microscope.”
Said his high school teammate, Richard Rabb, in the same story: “I look at it like he’s a kid. He’s gonna make mistakes.”
Rabb has it half-right. Winston is a kid … who happens to be a national champion quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner. He’s also one of, if not the most visible representative of his university. Increased fame leads to increased scrutiny.
That’s the same — or at least it should be — for the college newspaper editor or the student body president. They’re public representatives of their schools. The spotlight shines on their actions.
It’s a debate I’ve had before with other former college athletes, who didn’t like that their slip-ups were examined closer than those of the regular student. Yet those students don’t have their names called over and over again national television on Saturday afternoons. They’re not the subject of sports network highlight reels.
People know who they are and know for whom they play. There’s a responsibility to behave. Right or wrong, it’s reality.
Yet there’s a flip side to that theory, one that goes too far. Winston’s father, Antonor, went down that path with some of his comments in that USA Today story.
While saying his son must be more cognizant of the spotlight, he also said, “He’s supposed to have somebody around him 24/7. He’s a Heisman Trophy winner so (he’s) definitely not supposed to be by (himself).”
Here’s where responsibility — personal responsibility — kicks in. College is the first time many young people make their own decisions in life. Mom and Dad are hours away from campus and aren’t there to advise every move. Those young people make their choices, and live with the consequences.
It could be the choice of which major to study, which apartment to rent, which job to take to pay for tuition, or whether you think you’re really OK to drive after that night on the town. But it’s solely up to the student, just as it will be when he or she no longer is a student and steps out into the adult world.
To saddle student-athletes with a 24/7 handlers — on top of being logistically impossible — delays that growth. And it does student-athletes no favors. One day, they’ll step beyond those college walls. The sooner they understand how the world works, the better.
Student-athletes aren’t Joe Everyman. They’re not Superman, either. They might make mistakes and turn the wrong corners. They just have to be ready, fair or not, for what happens next.