Every talking head in the nation chastised Jadeveon Clowney when he decided to sit out a game at the last minute this past weekend. But, the point isn’t whether it was right or wrong for him to sit out. Rather, the point is that it was the smart thing to do. And, more importantly, Clowney made himself a positive role model for young NFL-caliber football players.
The NCAA model of student athlete exploitation is a pointless joke at this point. Clowney doesn’t owe a single thing to the University of South Carolina. They, however, owe him a few millions things. Players like Clowney bring millions of dollars into a system that supports an embarrassing amount of coaches, assistant coaches, athletic directors, school presidents and agents. All of them make huge sums of money off the labor and celebrity of men like Clowney, and then act like he committed a crime by making a choice that was best for him and his family.
It makes no sense for him to play one more down of contact football in college. If he does, best-case scenario is that he continues to cement his status as a highly-paid top draft pick. Worst-case scenario, he blows out his knee and costs himself millions of dollars. All he has to do is ask his old teammate Marcus Lattimore how that feels.
Instead of putting himself at that risk, he stayed on the sidelines. That makes perfect sense for players with his kind of talent. He’s already put that talent on display for NFL teams. They know he has what it takes to be a difference maker at the next level. We’ve seen the top picks skip the NFL Combine for years because there’s no upside for them to work out. College football is basically a long-form combine for men like Clowney.
However, the exception to the rule. Most players use their college eligibility to either get an education they couldn’t otherwise afford, or to impress pro scouts and raise their draft stock. Those players deserve compensation for the value they bring the university, but they have an incentive to continue to play and give their best effort for their team. That incentive doesn’t exist for players in Clowney’s position.
If other players who have sure-fire NFL futures are taking notes, we’re going to see more and more of them watching from the sidelines with phantom injuries. And I would too if I was in their shoes.