Why Is the Media Obsessed with Jadeveon Clowney Sitting Out His Junior Season?

Kevin C. Cox

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably observed the increasingly prominent debate regarding whether uber-DE Jadeveon Clowney should consider sitting out his junior season in order to protect his body for the 2014 NFL Draft. The Charlotte Observer's Tom Sorenson got the discussion going a couple of days ago, ESPN picked it up and has been featuring it in discussion segments on its television programming, and Yahoo's Michael Silver even believes Clowney should hire a lawyer and challenge the Clarrett Decision, which denied Maurice Clarett's ten-year-old challenge to the three-year rule. This has become the topic du jour for our favorite sport, popping up on multiple spots of ESPN.com's college football page.

Personally, while my heart cries out against the idea, my head can see the logic--Clowney is risking some change by taking the field for the Gamecocks next year. Moreover, the three-year rule is indeed unfair. It's designed to sacrifice the individual player's interests to the interests of the NFL, which gets to use college football as a de facto farm system that weeds out many of the players who lack the physical toughness or mental maturity to play the professional game. It also sacrifices the individual to the college game itself, which benefits immeasurably from having great players for at least three of those players' years. I would hate to see what the end of the rule would do to college football (think of how the situation has played out in college basketball), but it's a rule that serves exploitative purposes, and while I'm not lawyer, it's hard for me to believe that an intrepid one couldn't figure out a way to convince a judge of as much, although in this age of concern over player safety, maybe it would be harder than I'm thinking. In any event, it looks like Clowney is opting for an insurance policy instead of a lawyer, and I doubt he would ever consider just sitting a year out. It may make financial sense, yes, but football players like playing football, winning awards, contributing to championships, etc.--that shouldn't be forgotten. And come November, all this talk about how Clowney should sit the season out might end up being the centerpiece of his Heisman campaign.

One of the things that's really interested me about this story, though, is how the media attention it's gotten is virtually unprecedented. I don't recall a sophomore's NFL prospects ever creating such a firestorm before, despite the fact that Clowney is hardly the first player who would have been a high draft pick after his sophomore season, should he have been eligible to to declare. Trent Richardson and Justin Blackmon are two recent examples who come to mind, although I suppose it's worth acknowledging that Clowney is probably the first such player who would have been an almost sure-fire number one pick in this situation. This kind of thing always prompts me to ask, why here, why now? What is it about this narrative that makes it appealing to the media and the public? Slow news week? Or is it something else about the story? My first thought was that Clowney is perceived as less of a scholar-athlete than some of the other guys in this category, but on second thought, Richardson comes out of a program that is perceived as ten times more of an NFL farm franchise than South Carolina. So, maybe it is just a slow news week, after all. And Clowney himself probably didn't help matters much by mentioning a few weeks back that he would have declared if he could have. Still, I'm curious to know you're thoughts on this, gentle reader. How did this story gain so much traction?

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