Tyrann Mathieu’s Arrest is an American Tragedy

I’m proud to say that one of my few correct predictions as a sportswriter/fan/blogger/maniac came courtesy of Tyrann Mathieu. It came prior to the Oregon-LSU game last year, when prior to kickoff I told anyone who would listen to keep an eye No. 7. At the time Mathieu wasn’t the “Honey Badger” and hardly a national phenomenon. Instead, he was just another talented guy on a team filled with them.

A couple quarters later Mathieu made me look like a genius, when he stripped Kenjon Barner on a punt return and took it to the house for a touchdown. It changed the game, and changed LSU’s season. The Bayou Bengals went on to have one of the single best regular seasons in college football history before losing to Alabama for the BCS title.

And really, that was the gift of Tyrann Mathieu the football player: My goodness was that dude exciting. And he made it damn fun to turn on LSU football games every Saturday.

Understand that after covering sports for a few years now, I’ve come to realize that after a while all these games, teams and seasons kind of blur together. Rarely does anyone stand up and stand out, and get me truly excited to watch them play every week. Tyrann Mathieu was one of those players. Every time he took the field, I was like a kid again, giddy to see what he would do next. Emotionally, he brought the best out of me as a fan.

That’s also why I got pretty emotional yesterday as well, when I heard Mathieu and three of his ex-LSU teammates were arrested on drug charges. When the news broke I was sick to my stomach. Later, when I saw a picture of Mathieu in handcuffs, I was just plain depressed.

What a waste of, well, everything, huh?

Granted, by now it’s no secret that Mathieu has issues and truthfully, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when he got busted with weed on Thursday. After all, this was the same guy who got suspended against Auburn last year for reportedly failing a drug test, and got kicked off of LSU’s football team this summer for reportedly doing the same. Mathieu is also the same guy who spent the second half of August in John Lucas’ drug rehab facility trying to get his act together. I’m not saying we should’ve expected Thursday’s arrest, or news that Mathieu was still smoking weed. Again though, we shouldn’t be surprised either.

Only I was.

Maybe it’s naiveté on my part, but I really did think Mathieu would move past all this. As a matter of fact, I wrote that exact thing in early September. At the time, my logic went something like this: When Mathieu got kicked off LSU’s football team he could’ve gone to an FCS school and played right away, or gone somewhere and just started prepping for the NFL Draft. Those were the easy ways out. Instead Mathieu decided to enter rehab and return to LSU, where he wouldn’t be allowed to play football. That was the hard choice. Why would Mathieu make that decision unless he really cared about cleaning himself up and becoming a better person? He wouldn’t have.

That’s also what made Thursday’s news so sad for me: The simple truth is that Tyrann Mathieu is trying so damn hard. And he just can’t get out of his own way.

Look, say what you want about Mathieu, and the fact that at the end of the day this is all his own doing. You know what, you’re right. Tyrann Mathieu has nobody to blame but himself. As Bill Parcells used to say, “You are what your record says you are.” And right now, Tyrann Mathieu’s record says he’s a troubled kid with a big problem.

Still, this is a problem, one which apparently has become bigger than Mathieu can handle at this point. I know some of you are probably thinking, “Oh, it’s just weed” and that weed isn’t nearly as bad as other drugs Mathieu could be doing. In this case, I disagree. The kid clearly has some sort of dependency on it, and it is clearly consuming his life. If it were easy for Tyrann Mathieu to stop smoking, don’t you think he would’ve done it by now?  After all, this is someone who couldn’t quit smoking after getting suspended for a game last year, and apparently couldn’t quit after getting booted from the team in August. Now his entire football future is in jeopardy. Yet I’ve got to wonder, if he hasn’t stopped smoking weed by now, why will he going forward? I certainly hope he does. But I’m also realistic too.

Speaking of that future, I’m sad to say that I really do think we may never see Tyrann Mathieu on the football field ever again. At this point it seems damn near impossible he’ll ever play at LSU again, and really you’ve got to wonder if anyone in the NFL is going to risk drafting him. Remember, Mathieu is a 5’9 fireplug, not a 6’2 wrecking ball, and was seen as a mid-round pick after his suspension in the summer. Now with all these documented problems, will anyone be willing to take a chance on him? Heck, I’m the biggest Tyrann Mathieu fan there is, and even I wouldn’t stake my professional future on him staying clean.

Of course to some, it’s selfish of me to even be talking about football right now, and in a lot of ways, you’re right. Ultimately this isn’t about football, but about Tyrann Mathieu getting his head clear and getting off drugs for good. I’m no counselor, but I am smart enough to know that Tyrann Mathieu’s success going forward won’t be based on how many tackles he makes, but whether or not he quits smoking weed for good.  After all, at some point football will eventually end. But these problems won’t go away nearly as quickly, unless Mathieu starts fixing them now.

At the same time understand that football is important here too.

Let’s not get it twisted here, Tyrann Mathieu came from a pretty crappy background, and it was football which helped him escape it. It was football which got Tyrann Mathieu out of one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New Orleans and to the relative safety of Baton Rouge. It was football that afforded him opportunities that you and I might take for granted, like getting a college education and traveling to different parts of the country. And it was football which was supposed to allow him to make enough money where he’d never have to go back to the dark places again.

But now without football in his foreseeable future, I’m afraid that Tyrann Mathieu is going to become another statistic in a state fraught with them. Remember, Louisiana is a place known as the “Prison Capital of the World,” where one in 86 adults is serving behind bars right now, and where one in 14 African-American men is locked up as well. Included in those statistics is a man named Darrin Hayes, a high school football superstar in the 1980’s who was supposed to use football as a gateway out of his dangerous New Orleans neighborhood. Only Hayes never made it, and is now serving a life sentence in a Louisiana prison. In case you’re wondering, Darrin Hayes is also Tyrann Mathieu’s biological father.

And while I’m in no way saying Mathieu will do anything near as extreme as his father, the point I’m trying to make is that football was supposed to be the vehicle to ensure Mathieu never got in trouble, and never ended up behind bars. Only that’s exactly where he was Thursday.

As a matter of fact, that’s my biggest fear in how this story ends: That at some point in five or 10 or 20 years, some editor will ask me to track down Tyrann Mathieu for one of those “Where are they now” stories. And after doing some digging I find out that Mathieu is behind bars somewhere, or back on the New Orleans streets where this all started. The truth of the matter is that the only place Mathieu belongs in the coming years is on the football field.

That’s my fear, and at this point my only hope is that Tyrann Mathieu never lets it get to that point. Tyrann Mathieu is better than that. He’s better than the lousy neighborhood he grew up in. Better than the weed he can’t stop smoking. Better the handcuffs he was photographed on Thursday.

Unfortunately, the only person who doesn’t seem to realize it is Tyrann Mathieu himself.

I hope he figures it out soon.

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.