The Oakland Raiders are preparing to try and significantly upgrade their roster in the 2013 NFL Draft which is only one day away. So why, then, am I talking about a former first round pick who is likely one of if not the biggest draft bust in the history of the NFL? Much like most problems in sports, I blame ESPN.
ESPN aired a 12 minute mini documentary on Russell's comeback attempt a few days ago called "Waking Up". Much like most of the puff pieces on ESPN, they go out of their way to draw the picture of someone you should feel bad for. Someone who has gone through so much and yet has overcome and should be seen as an inspiration.
But there is one problem, Russell has not overcome anything yet. He has not made it back into the NFL and most signs point to him not making it this year.
Russell is in the middle of attempting a comeback, but with the draft one day away, there has been almost no interest shown by any NFL team to sign him to their roster. In fact, after hearing a lot about how Russell would have a pro day, it was cancelled just days before. Then there were reports that he is still out of shape and has not changed his ways. So why then, is ESPN doing a video montage about his comeback? Most likely is because they are attempting to create extra drama to drive up ratings.
Now, don't get me wrong. The video shows the tough times that Russell went through as he was transitioning to the NFL. He lost two family members who he was very close with and had a very hard time focusing on football when he was going through such grief.
I do not at all mean minimalize the trials Russell has been through, but everyone on this earth has lost people close to them. Personally, I lost a grandmother who helped raise me as a child during my first semester of law school. Within a two month period of that loss, my father was laid off and my family began having financial problems, a friend from high school overdosed and passed away, the father of one of my closest friends who was like family to me as a child died and I began having health problems.
I don't say all of that to get sympathy, I don't want or deserve sympathy. I say it to make the point that as I was going through all of that, I had a choice. I could have began drinking, doing drugs, dropped out of school and given up. Instead, I put my head down, worked hard and eventually came out on the other side a stronger person. But that is nothing special or unique. There are plenty of people who go through times much worse than what I went through and come out better than I have. I even know some of them.
People fight through tough times everyday and find success. I've seen it in friends, family and complete strangers. But you know what the difference between those people and JaMarcus Russell is? They didn't have millions of dollars at their disposal to help them through the tough times.
Now clearly money isn't everything. It doesn't solve all problems or take away all pain. But let's be honest here, the world we live in is the world we live in. Having money DOES make things easier. Stress from worrying about money can itself make dealing with problems much worse. Plus, with millions of dollars, you have the luxury of hiring people to take care of many of your responsibilities.
When I was in law school, having that much money would've made things a whole lot easier. I was on student loans which meant I was living in a small studio apartment eating top ramen most nights and driving a 1990 Honda Civic that was literally falling apart. Money is not the answer, but it certainly makes makes dealing with problems that much easier.
My point is this, everyone goes through very difficult times in their lives, but not everyone is in the same position when those times happen. Russell found himself in a better position than most. Yeah, he had a lot of pressure as a result of where he was drafted, but he added to that pressure by holding out through the entire training camp, putting himself way behind the eight ball on his NFL learning curve. The fact of the matter is that he was paid millions of dollars to play a game. To live out a dream that most never even come close to. I am sure there are a ton of people out there who have been through worse than he was going through and would have loved to switched places.
I have watched some of the videos of Russell's comeback attempt and it does appear as though he is serious about it. And if he is and he succeeds, then I will applaud him. But I do not find any particular amount of inspiration from a guy who chose the wrong path and is now attempting to do the right thing.
ESPN does in this video what it attempts to do with many stories, over dramatize it in an attempt to get people interested by appealing to their emotions. They tried very hard to make Russell look as though he went through some epic tragedies that forced him into the bad paths that led him out of the NFL. In reality, Russell went through bad times that everyone can relate to, but chose a path that few can relate to. That is not inspiring.
The timing of the video is also odd to me. If ESPN believed that Russell was going to succeed in his comeback, wouldn't it be a much better documentary if they could end it with video from Russell back in an NFL camp? Wouldn't that have made the story so much more inspirational? So why then is ESPN releasing it now?
Sure, it is near the draft and Russell is one of the biggest draft busts of all time, but the video barely even mentions the draft aside from noting Russell's high draft position. I can't help but feel that ESPN is doing it now because they think Russell won't make a roster and are trying to squeeze some extra ratings out of it before the story completely disappears.
Maybe I am overly cynical about ESPN's motives, but the entire video rang fake to me. It felt like they were trying to force a "tragic" story down my throat using a soundtrack of sad followed by inspiring music to cue my emotional reactions.
I hope Russell makes it back to the league if for no other reason than the fact that I do believe that people deserve second chances. But I am not inspired by him nor am I particularly moved by his story. Maybe some will think that means I am cold and uncaring, but I just think it means I'm not one to be fooled by ESPN waving something shiny before my eyes.