Jadeveon Clowney, the South Carolina defensive end who’s expected to go first-overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, is in the middle of a big, dumb controversy.
And it’s all because of one reckless quote from his coach Steve Spurrier.
Clowney missed Saturday’s game against Kentucky because of strained ribs.
Since he’s also dealing with bone spurs in his foot (an ailment that will require surgery after the season), the decision to sit out against one of the SEC’s worst teams didn’t seem all that controversial.
But after the game, an irked Spurrier told the media that he didn’t know Clowney was hurt until he came up to him before the game and said he couldn’t play. Then he dropped the following quote:
“If he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to. But if he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to. Simple as that.”
Spurrier tends to say whatever pops into his head. It’s what makes him such a loveable figure. But this quote about Clowney had consequences. The repeated use of the word “want” implied that Clowney was healthy enough to play, and just didn’t feel like putting his draft status at risk.
The college football world flipped out. Here’s a small collection of quotes from earlier this week:
- David Whitley, Fox Sports : “Clowney is soft. He doesn’t love football. He’s saving himself for the NFL. All the hype has gone to his head.”
- Paul Finebaum, ESPN : “His demeanor this year starting at North Carolina has been disgraceful. I think he is clearly the biggest joke in college football right now.”
- Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN : “If he is healthy and he’s healthy enough to play and he chooses not to, then I think a leader in that locker room needs to ask him to leave the locker room and not be a part of it.”
Other ESPN talking heads called him selfish.
But the entire controversy was built on one assumption: Clowney could have played but chose not to.
That was completely false, as it turns out.
Clowney actually has strained ribs that are preventing him from running. In addition, Spurrier said his comments were the result of a pregame mix-up in the protocol for how players report injuries to the team.
Here’s what Spurrier told the media yesterday:
“He was in pain and it was diagnosed later. Obviously we all handled it poorly, all of us did. The proper procedure and protocol when a player’s hurt, he tells the trainer or the team doctor, ‘Hey, I can’t go.’ The trainer tells me, the head coach, ‘He’s out, he’s not playing.’ And I say, ‘OK, he’s out, he’s not playing.’ Simple as that. We all didn’t do that. It caused some confusion. We didn’t know he was suiting up until a little later and this, that, and the other. So we didn’t handle it well.”
Clowney spoke to the media too. He implied that he didn’t tell the right people that he was in pain, resulting in the miscommunication that got Spurrier all fired up:
“It was just really a miscommunication between me, the coaches, and the trainer. I could have handled it different instead of just telling him like that. But, you know, it was a miscommunication.”
Basically, Clowney blindsided Spurrier with the news that he couldn’t play because he didn’t follow protocol. That’s his big crime here, not that he refused to play healthy.
As a result of Spurrier cleaning the air, Herbstreit went back on his comments this morning, saying, “I responded to Steve Spurrier’s quotes after the game. … That was all of my reaction.”
It was a firestorm based on one misleading quote from a coach says wacky stuff all the time. And the worst part is, the impression that Clowney is “soft” will likely stick to him long after the controversy disappears.
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