It is a frustrating reality of the human condition that we really suck at setting aside our visceral human emotions. When a person or group we detest become wrapped up in a larger issue, trying to separate out those gut reactions from the bigger picture is like asking the French not to surrender.
Does a porn peddler have the right to publish a distasteful parody of a religious leader having sex with his mom in an outhouse? Should we believe a lowlife ex-slugger who blows the whistle on steroids in Major League Baseball? Can we trust ourselves to presume innocence when a group of entitled college lacrosse players are accused of rape?
As sports opinioators far and wide have debated the merits of supposed-talent-scout-turned-deli-associate Will Lyles' character and the role of race in his media portrayal, it should come as no surprise that the real matter at hand got short shrift.
Cue Helen Lovejoy.
Advisers of all shapes and sizes are embedded in the very fabric of college football recruiting. If it's not a player's parents, it's an uncle, a community figure, a family friend. Traditionally, though, the go-to gatekeeper has been the high school coach.
Well, we may not like the messenger, but Lyles is right when he points out that coaches have their own conflicts of interest. For one, history has shown that coaches aren't above selling players – ask Albert Means. But aren't there other reasons coaches might influence players that don't involve getting paid off?
Maybe it's a job at State U's summer camp. Maybe it's the hope of moving up in the coaching world. Maybe it's the opportunity to lick Coach Bigwigs' boots for a bit. Maybe it's just simple fanhood.
The incentives and opportunities to intervene in their players' college decisions are there for high school coaches, too – same as the shadowy "mentors." Sure, selling a player to the highest bidder may be more brazen, but plenty of players undoubtedly get "steered" in the direction of their coaches' choosing, too. The latter may seem harmless, but the end result is really not that different.
I suspect that Lyles himself will continue to be the center of attention as this episode drags on. His story makes for compelling copy. He's painting himself as a kind-hearted outlaw, and a ham-handed piece of "satire" probably helped him gain some sympathy in more than a few circles. Oh, and he's also in the process of diming out a nouveau riche program that just played for the national title and is backed by a corporate behemoth.
There's certainly a place in this discussion for judging the propriety of Lyles' relationships with his recruits and his arrangements with the different programs that employed him. (God knows the NCAA will, and I doubt it will be pretty for Oregon.) More importantly, though, this whole scandal should at least give us reason to evaluate how recruits' interests are best served.
It's a conversation worth having, but it seems all anyone wants to talk about is Lyles.