Tyrann Mathieu‘s dismissal leaves the LSU Tigers secondary in a bit of a lurch on the field but the larger and obviously more important question to those commenting on it, is what the hell to do with polls and preseason All-American lists and Heisman prognostications? Did the Honey Badger consider any of that when he purportedly failed a third drug test? Probably not, but for a player who gained fame in the Twitterverse by getting the mindless national writers to retweet his every thought — or those found in Google under “inspirational quotes” — perhaps the world view narrowed in the last year.
Prior to his fantastic, though a bit overdone, 2011 season, Mathieu was an enigma and by no means, an assured star. He filled in nicely as a nickel back for the Tigers in 2010 and stepped into the starting lineup when Patrick Peterson left early for the NFL. Interceptions, forced fumbles and tackles a plenty followed along with the perils of media attention that hounds a new mega-talent with a catchy moniker. In reality, the Honey Badger simply carried on with replicating the stats of his LSU predecessors in the secondary, a unit that continually produces first-round picks like they’re plucked in Baton Rouge bushels.
His partner at corner, Morris Claiborne drew less headlines and fewer chances like so many elite defensive backs. The fifth overall selection by the Dallas Cowboys in 2012, Claiborne was the lock-down defender Jerry Jones searched for while Mathieu represented the type of player, on and off the field, the owner had salivated over in the past.
Never one to mince his words online or with the media, Mathieu and his teammates couldn’t stop Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron from tossing for 234 yards in the BCS National Championship and basically exploiting a strength — the Tigers’ stingy pass defense — with a perfect game plan. Had LSU completed an undefeated season with a second victory over the Crimson Tide, there’s no telling where the Honey Badger PR train might have careened.
He’d already earned a suspension against Auburn in 2011 for failing a second, university-mandated drug test. If another positive test provoked the dismissal and that seems reasonable, how exactly could Les Miles prevent a star player from understanding rules that don’t apply to athletes? Therein lies the issue facing so many of the major college head coaches, massaging egos of recruits to get them on your campus and then beating the diva tendencies out until they grow up.
Mathieu might not have asked for the attention but his online persona enjoyed it freely. In a vacuum, these are 18-22 year-old college students who make similarly stupid mistakes as their non-athlete counterparts. Collegiate sports aren’t a vacuum though. These are public figures, playing a voluntary game and agreeing to a set of rules that no matter your Klout score, have consequences.
From August 2011 to August 2012, Tyrann Mathieu shot to celebrity on Twitter and between the sidelines. If he’s eligible to play at an FCS school, there’s a better than average chance that his talent will carry him to the NFL. Is dismissal a speed bump for the Honey Badger or a burgeoning pattern?
In reconstructing his image, he’ll do so with much less fanfare than a Heisman contender in the SEC faces. If regaining acclaim is the motivating factor, this won’t be his final public demise. Should Mathieu seek solace on the field and mirror his ex-teammate Claiborne’s path, a renaissance awaits.
Which is it?