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ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- Tyrann Mathieu, dubbed the Honey Badger due to his competitive football ferocity despite his slight stature, thrilled college football aficionados -- especially fans of the Louisiana State University Tigers -- with his on-field exploits during the 2011 collegiate season.
The Honey Badger's propensity for big, game-changing plays garnered him prestigious accolades. Besides being a consensus All-American last season, he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, a rarity not only for a defensive player but also for a sophomore. Mathieu also was awarded the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the player recognized as the best defensive player in college football.
But the celebrated path of the young football star -- he was on the cusp of his junior year at LSU -- took a dramatic detour when, on Aug. 10, he was dismissed from the LSU football, allegedly for violating the school's substance abuse policy.
Mathieu's decision in light of his suspension reveals that the Honey Badger really does care about his future. On Friday (Aug. 17) it was revealed that Mathieu had been accepted into a drug rehabilitation program in Houston, and that he will sit out the football season. The family, reports indicated, decided that Mathieu would remain in the rehab facility for the near future rather than return to classes at LSU or enroll at any other college in order to play football.
Tyrone Mathieu, Tyrann's father, was reported as saying he and his son agree that until he conquers his demons, he won't be successful at his future endeavors, wherever they unfold. Football, he indicated, will take care of itself down the road.
"My wife, Sheila, and the family are taking the time to heal," Tyrone Mathieu said. "We are not concerned right now about football at all. Tyrann totally understands that it will take some time and commitment to be the best student, player and adult he is capable of being."
When he announced Mathieu's suspension Aug. 10, LSU head football coach Les Miles told reporters. "I think that he's a quality, quality guy, who had behavior issues. And that's it."
I thought Mathieu might transfer to another school, play a season and then enter the NFL draft. That, or even play in the Canadian Football League for a couple of years and then emerge in the NFL.
What my cynicism kept me from considering is that Miles' assessment of Mathieu was spot on. His decision reveals that he just might be a quality young man with a behavior issue. An issue that he and his family realize he must overcome.
"Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself," said French general and statesman Charles DeGaulle. "He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own."
Tyrann Mathieu is exhibiting character right now of which many should take note. It would seem that the Honey Badger is doing something many young men in his position do not do very well. He has listened to the wise counsel of his parents.
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes," records the Bible in Proverbs 12:15, "but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." Mathieu was in position to ignore everyone's advice, play football this fall at a small school, and sprint toward a big payday in pro football. Instead, in discussing his situation with his parents he has chosen to take care of first things first – his physiological and physical well being.
Mathieu's decision to enter drug rehab also reveals that he is taking the long view of life. The big picture reality is that if he does not overcome substance abuse, his life eventually will be in shambles.
As good as Mathieu is on the football field, there is no guarantee that he will make it in the NFL. Injury, personal problems and substance abuse have derailed many a promising pro career. The numbers of those who had professional potential but did not make it vastly outnumber those who enjoy a long career in the NFL.
The shelf-life for the average professional football player is relatively short. Players who do not prepare for life after football are in for a rude awakening. Mathieu's decision, made in counsel with his family, reveals that while football is an important aspect of his life, it is not the most important.
I hope the Honey Badger does care about his life, because if he does not conquer his drug problem, he is likely to follow the footsteps of other young men who stumbled into ruin and never achieved their potential on or off the football field. His decision to forgo a semester of college and enter drug rehab is very wise.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message www.baptistmessage.com
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