As a pseudo-member of the sports media, one thing I tend to take for granted is the chance to talk with people. When I interview someone, I get a little snapshot of their personality and character. After a football or basketball game, some people spout cliches, but others let you in a little bit so you can see a little better who they are and what they’re about.
For example, I can tell you that regardless of the outcome of the game, Adam Barmann is one supremely confident human being.
Charles Gordon is softspoken and always turns the attention to his teammates.
Mark Simmons is quick to smile, especially when he’s talking about his family.
So when John Randle was arrested back on March 15, I was very, very surprised.
Whenever he was made available for postgame interviews last season, which was pretty much after every game, he was engaging, smart, thoughful. He tended to deflect credit to his offensive linemen and his coaches. He had a sense of humor about himself and his teammates, and like Simmons, his smile was never too far away.
He also impressed me with his openness in talking about his off-the-field problems. He didn’t get into the ugly details – after all, many of those are a matter of public record. But he readily admitted to making mistakes and always said, in one form or another, “I trust that with God’s help, I can avoid those situations in the future.”
Now, with a second arrest coming Sunday morning, I’ve moved from surprised and disappointed to sad and disillusioned.
Charles Barkley was right: athletes probably shouldn’t be role models – not because they can’t be, but because when things go wrong for athletes, they really go wrong.
After talking with the former role model and mentor at Wichita Southeast High School last fall, I was convinced that Randle had all the makings of a true literary hero. After all, by definition, heroes have flaws, right? They all experience a fall from grace, right? Then they rise above it all.
I was sure convinced John Randle had experienced his fall from grace. His tragic flaws had been his downfall, but I was sure that he’d put a lot of bad decision-making behind him.
Sadly, I am (for now at least) wrong.
As fans, we all have our favorite players, and we pick them for different reasons. The older I get, the less I choose the best player as my favorite. That’s too easy.
I tend to look for a guy like Kevin Kane or Bill Whittemore who maybe isn’t the most physically-gifted but just always seems to make plays.
Or maybe a player like, well, most of KU’s offensive line, a bunch of guys who have been moved and shuffled and called out by their coach only to come out on the other side stronger and better for it all.
And sometimes I pick a guy who has overcome adversity and made good on a second chance. A hero in the truest sense. Maybe a young man like John Randle.
By no stretch of the imagination does John Randle belong on society’s scrap heap. I still believe he’s a decent young guy who makes lousy decisions sometimes, particularly, it would seem, when there’s alcohol around. And when you’re John Randle, the spotlight’s just a little bigger and brighter.
But it just goes to show that no matter how good we think we are at reading people, life can throw us curves every now and then – especially when you’re dealing with young people.
One thing I am pretty sure about is that Randle doesn’t belong on a football team right now. At least, not this football team. The best thing for this young man may be life outside the fishbowl for awhile. It’s clear now that Randle’s got bigger problems to worry about than learning new offensive wrinkles and staying healthy while facing punishing Big 12 defenses week in and week out.
Maybe, finally, this is Randle’s fall from grace, the final adversity that will forge his character. I hope so. Because once you talk to some people, even though they’ve made terrible choices, you can’t help but want the best for them.
To me, John Randle will probably be one of those people.