As you know by now -- and if you don't, stay with Rapaport for the latest -- Jimmy Johns has been arrested for cocaine possession/distribution, and summarily suspended from school and kicked off the Alabama football team. It's the end of yet another career for another Alabama football player who came to Tuscaloosa with a great deal of promise.
This situation runs the gamut of emotions. It puts the current linebacking situation at even greater peril for 2008. It's embarrassing for Alabama, mostly because it's going to re-invigorate the ridiculous cries that always come with stuff like this -- that Nick Saban's program lacks discipline, that Alabama players are all thugs and crooks, that stupid "Pa-role Tide, Pa-role" thing that keeps coming up, and, of course, EDSBS' Fulmer Cup, which Alabama will no doubt dominate before the season's out.
But it makes me angry for a different, more philosophical reason. Being a sports fan, my favorite teams and players matter more to me than they should. It's always been that way.
Look, I don't know Jimmy Johns, and Jimmy Johns certainly doesn't know me. He has no reason to be loyal to me, ever. And I have no place telling him how to live his life.
Following a college team -- particularly when you're an alum -- is a different kind of fan experience. The university matters a great deal to me personally, and as such, the football team does as well. I never got to wear the crimson -- amazingly, they weren't interested in a 6-2, 175-lb offensive lineman -- but, when I was 18, I would've definitely murdered several people, possibly my own friends, if I were offered that chance.
Because of those things, I follow the team a little too closely. I refer to the players by their first names. In a weird way, I feel like fans of college teams get a chance to watch their players grow up -- they follow them from age 18 until age 23, one of those periods in life where we probably experience more growth and self-discovery than any other. We don't know them, not really, but we feel like we do.
With Johns, it was that way. Alabama fans took it very personally when we heard that Sylvester Croom famously told him he'd never play quarterback at Alabama; Alabama fans cheered Johns when he angrily told a reporter, "We play hard, we play like champions" prior to playing State in '06; and Alabama fans wondered aloud what Johns must be doing wrong in '07, when he barely saw the field.
Now we know the answer. And to be honest, it feels a little like betrayal, like finding out one of your cousins has been stealing money from your 80-year-old grandmother.
Like I said, it shouldn't feel this way. Wearing the crimson jersey likely never meant that much to Johns, and probably doesn't mean that much to most of the guys on the roster -- it's a means to an end, whether that end is the pros, some business networking or just the feeling of being a BMOC.
But it does feel this way to people who bleed for Alabama. And that's just the way it is.