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Crashing The Pity Party

Chad Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu got dropped. Unfortunate? Sure. Sad or a shame? Hardly.

By Khalid Salaam August 15, 2012, 12:32 PM EST

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Tyrann Mathieu and Chad Johnson have been in the news recently for transgressions that resulted in their dismissals from LSU and the Miami Dolphins respectively. Although they’re situations and stakes are vastly different – Mathieu let another failed drug test possibly blow his best and last shot at pro ball money, whereas Chad’s domestic strife with his reality-TV star wife might have ended his decade-plus career– both are lumped into the same pseudo-sympathy category from fans and the media.

“It’s a shame…” You hear that a lot. But, the truth is that, from my vantage point, they both deserved it. Any sympathy thrown their way is just bleeding heart weak-mindedness.

Johnson had recently discarded the Ochocinco moniker as tangible evidence of his maturity and refocus after his severely underwhelming 2011 campaign with New England. Miami didn’t buy what he was selling however, and it’s especially telling that a team like the Dolphins, with arguably the worst receiving corps in the league, made such a definitive move a mere 24 hours after Johnson’s arrest.

If you caught last week’s episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks, then you know that his time there didn’t look like it had long money on it, anyway. His outlandishness stood out on a young team, already causing rookie head coach Joe Philbin a decent level of grief. He’d already earned a warning that his behavior was out of bounds, so, if you’re Johnson, you have to pay extra mind to walking gingerly on the thin the ice under your feet, right?

Admittedly, the fact that it was an off-field incident – a very personal one, at that – makes it more complicated. But this is one of those “your reputation precedes you” types of deals. Johnson hadn’t had any previous issues with the law as a pro, but the reputation that preceded him was one of being a distraction and the Dolphins didn’t grant him the leeway they might have offered one of his teammates.

Johnson has earned his rep. He’s out of the league now, without a clear path back. He’s earned that, too. So when I hear people say “it’s a shame” that he got cut, I have to hit them with a side-eye and a pfftt.

Coming into this college football season, Mathieu (nicknamed the Honey Badger) was widely regarded as one of the best defensive players in the country. He was certainly the most famous. Last season he won the Chuck Bednarik Award for the nation’s top defensive player and was a Heisman Trophy finalist – not mention the muse for YouTube auteurs. His penchant for making game-changing plays is one of the lasting legacies of last season. His ability to impact both defense and special teams is one of the primary reasons LSU comes in to the 2012 campaign ranked No. 1.

LSU hasn’t disclosed any specifics about Mathieu’s dismissal, but coach Les Miles and the Tiger program deemed it serious enough to jettison the kid with little regard.

It was expected that the rising junior would have declared for the next NFL Draft after presumably another strong season with the Tigers. Now? Who knows? There’s no guarantee he’s getting drafted at all.

Mathieu was suspended one game last year for possession of synthetic marijuana (apparently there is such a thing), so this is not his first offense. You’d think that a guy with his whole life in the balance would be on his best behavior or at least better than moderate behavior.

The reaction that his current plight “is a shame” has bubbled up in the last couple of days with people crying rivers for the kid. A guy from very humble beginnings – with a father that’s been incarcerated his whole life and a mother that gave him to relatives early in his life – blows his shot at a million dollar deal and people lament about how sad this whole thing is.

How, exactly, is it sad? If anything, people should be angry.

On a sliding scale context, this situation is only a shame in comparison to Johnson. A younger guy prone to bad decisions hasn’t made his money yet, possibly ruins a career before it gets started – I get it. But it’s not “a shame,” as much as it’s unfortunate.

What bothers me is that some folks seem to ignore the stakes. It’s prudent that those born without a silver fork in their mouths keep their straights more straight and their narrows even more narrow than everyone else. The impetus on remaining focused should be even stronger. If you’re fortunate enough to play for LSU, you can’t just chill on whatever drugs you’re dealing with? You can’t wait until you’re drafted? Really? That high couldn’t have been that good. Not million dollar good. No way.

Of course, nobody is perfect. We’re all allowed to mess up, do stupid things and make fools out of ourselves, occasionally. This is not a normal circumstance, however, when the stakes are as high as they were for Mathieu and the Plan B is several strata below the aim-high levels he was shooting for as a college star and potential “first day” draft pick. Football is a game, but, regarding Mathieu’s uncertain future, he had no room to play games.

This idea that people can make mistakes and still get over if they have a marketable skill exists because it’s a proven measure. It has happened before and it will happen again. I’m fine with that, actually.  If you take a risk and it all pans out, then so be it. I can’t hate.  But if that risk backfires, I’m not gonna yell out in the name of injustice. Dude, you caught an L, just take that with you.

After Mathieu’s suspension last season, Miles surely sat him down and explained that this can’t happen again. I bet Mathieu expressed remorse and said something in the vein of him learning his lesson and that this would no longer be an issue. Well, at some point he must have said, “You know what? I’m just gonna do me.” Well, OK, then. At that point, LSU didn’t have to give Mathieu another shot.

This is not a shame, it’s life.

Johnson, on the other hand, is chilling. He played 11 years on the NFL and should be fine money-wise. There is absolutely no need for any woe is him discussions. Regardless of how ridiculous Johnson might look now (in addition to his Dolphins release, the altercation with his soon-to-be ex-wife also cost them a TV show), he should be fine. No need for people to spend any time wondering about the next stage of his life. What happened was nothing more than a business reaction to his state of conduct. That’s it.

As for Mathieu, it’s disappointing that he squandered a DI scholarship and a shot at NFL riches, but I reserve my sadness for guys who blow out ACLs and break legs, guys that work hard but miss out on their NFL money due to circumstances beyond their control. Players like UCLA linebacker Patrice Larimore who, last week, was forced to retire due to recurring concussions. These guys didn’t even get into position to have a shot or realize their dream.

Mathieu’s dream wasn’t taken away, he threw it into the garbage.

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Khalid Salaam was formerly deputy editor of The Shadow League. 

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TheShadowLeague.com, a site dedicated to presenting journalistically sound sports coverage with a cultural perspective that insightfully informs sports fans worldwide. Founded and developed by media entrepreneur Keith Clinkscales, TSL is owned by Shadow League Digital a multi-platform content creation company.