Jamarcus Russell: Folk hero
Published: Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 3:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 3:06 p.m.
Are you finally done with your insults, jokes, vitriol and condescension aimed at JaMarcus Russell?
Will you agree to stop recycling the bit (admittedly still hilarious) about Russell checking into rehab for lethargy addiction?
Are you finally ready to hear an alternative point of view regarding JaMarcus Russell?
I was going to write “poor JaMarcus Russell,” but he isn't poor, is he? He was poor. Well, he came from working-class parents (his mother was a secretary; his dad a factory worker), but ever since the Reagan years, working class has been synonymous with poor.
Anyway, three years ago Russell became the opposite of poor. And that's the root of your sneering, belittling attitude toward Russell, isn't it? You cling, perhaps only vicariously but you cling nonetheless, to your pompous, holier-than-thou, supposedly good old-fashion WASP work ethic and you judge Russell to be guilty of having egregiously violated it because it looks like he'll become Ryan Leaf instead of John Elway.
Get over it.
As you know, Russell, the quarterback out of Louisiana State University, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. That's not unlike hitting the lottery.
Americans like to think of themselves as hard-working, never expecting something for nothing. Yet we're addicted to lotteries, the whole lure of which is to hit a jackpot — to get a whole lot of something for basically nothing.
When the average, poor, working-class American hits the lottery, happiness isn't guaranteed; neither is self-fulfillment or personal pleasure. The only thing that's guaranteed when the average, poor, working-class American hits the lottery is instant wealth. Even that's precarious.
Well, it's not that different for football players. Stardom isn't guaranteed by being the first overall draft pick. Success isn't guaranteed, either. Nor popularity. The only thing that is guaranteed by being the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick is instant wealth.
Russell struggled for three seasons on the Oakland Raiders, a team that is widely recognized as one of the least-successful and most-dysfunctional in all of professional sports. And then, very recently, the Raiders summarily fired him. But not before Russell pocketed more than $30 million of Al Davis' money, with another $3 million (give or take a couple of bucks) due him.
And why, exactly, should that elicit tons of scorn upon Russell?
It's doubtful football was ever just a fun, recreational game for Russell. He was groomed to be a high school football star when he was in grade school, and he was groomed to be a college football star when he was in high school. And he wasn't in college to study literature or science or music or drama or business — except the business of becoming a first-round NFL draft pick so he could finally get paid for “playing” football.
It's interesting that the legend of Robin Hood remains popular for centuries, and is yet again the subject of a current blockbuster movie, but when in real life we hear of someone who has taken from the obscenely rich (an NFL franchise) and given to the poor (himself and his family), we get all stuffy and conservative and preachy and tsk-tsk-ish.
The underbelly of the so-called American Dream is to be able to stick it to The Man. Well, that's what Russell did. So what? The fact that The Man is Al Davis should make the whole JaMarcus Russell story funny, if not noble. It should make Russell a folk hero, a modern jock version of Robin Hood, if you really want to be honest about it.
Look, professional football is a billion-dollar business and a strange one at that. Its purpose isn't to cure cancer or promote world peace or reveal corruption in high places. It's a business that profits from the marketing and exhibition of athletes who seriously risk their health by playing a dangerous, violence-fueled game.
If Russell never plays again and comes out some $30 million richer for it, good for him.
Robert Rubino can be reached at email@example.com or 521-5261.
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