If you are a talented athlete in America and you screw up, just say you're sorry and take a few make-good actions, and forgiveness and second and third chances will come pouring in. That's all. Just tell the world "I made a mistake, I'll do better next time" and you're golden.
Conversely, you can pass the responsibility buck, play the victim and dig that hole of yours a little deeper.
Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict chose Option B during an interview at the NFL Scouting Combine on Sunday.
Coming into this weekend's event with enough red flags to make the Chinese happy, Burfict had an opportunity to start the image rehabilitation he so sorely needs after a junior season that--given the expectations going in--was nothing short of a disaster. With the linebacker group set to do their workouts on Monday, he still may show off those tantalizing physical skills that garnered so much hype not long ago.
Yet, based on his words to the media on Sunday, he's got a long, long way to go to undo the perception that he, to paraphrase Robert Wuhl in Bull Durham, has "million dollar talent but a five-cent head".
The general tone of Burfict's interview at the combine was the old fallback for those under scrutiny--he was not wrong, just simply "misunderstood". There may be a small degree of truth to that, but the fact of the matter is that at no time since he stepped foot onto ASU's campus has he displayed the kind of maturity that is needed.
And with some of his comments Sunday, it is easy to understand this is still a player with a deeply flawed mentality.
In a season in which the expectations for the team and himself were sky high, Burfict--listed by ASU at 250 pounds--played out of shape at 260. As anyone who watched the Sun Devils in 2011 saw, the sideline-to-sideline quickness that had been the key to so much of his earlier success was no where to be found. NFL general managers surely notice when a guy who is faced with a chance to make his mark on his school and the entire college football world instead gets fat and lazy.
As if that dereliction of duty was not bad enough, Burfict took no responsibility for his actions, placing the blame on the former coaching staff.
"The coaches kind of messed me up. I didn't know if I would start a game or be benched. It hurt me, but I tried to fight through it."
There is validity to the notion that former head coach Dennis Erickson's lackadaisical culture factored into to Burfict's failures, but ultimately it is the responsibility of each player to be in the best shape and best mindset he can possibly achieve. It is the player's duty to do everything he can, both on and off the field, to be the best player for his team, regardless if he is a starter or scout teamer. Perhaps the most telling portion of the above statement is the seemingly conditional nature of Burfict's effort; it's as if he only tried when assured of a starting role.
In that all-important aspect, Burfict failed both himself and the team. Badly. In the NFL, that attitude typically results in looking for a career outside of football after three seasons.
He also feels that "people were putting words in my mouth and putting me as a bad guy."
There's a simple reason for that: his actions were perceived as that of a bad guy, and he said not a single word to contradict them.
As the on-field production dropped and the mistakes mounted, Burfict had chances to discuss the situation, make any explanations that were needed, but through his entire collegiate career, he refused to do interviews with the media. He hid in the shadows as his infamy grew to parody-like proportions.
Even in the overblown locker room fight with Kevin Ozier, Burfict painted himself as the victim by saying, "everyone thinks I'm the bad guy because my first instinct was to swing on the guy."
It's common for tempers to flare in a football locker room, but few "good guys" have first instincts that take a swing at a teammate.
Through the poor 2011 season, the scathing reviews from top evaluators and his mounting obstacles, Burfict's self-view hasn't dimmed at all.
"I just know I'm the best linebacker in this draft."
When asked why, he said, "My instincts, my nose for the ball, my study habits in the film room. I am a leader on and off the field, and my aggression to win and my passion for the game."
He may be the only person who holds that notion now, but the reality is that if he can put on a good show in the next two months, he only needs to convince one other person of that to regain his once lofty draft status.
Taking as a whole, Burfict's words arguably border on delusion. His fall from grace over the last six months has cost him the respect of his teammates, status as a sure-fire NFL first round pick and the support of many ASU fans. He's a talented yet troubled young man who desperately needs to overcome his significant issues in order to make good on the unbelievable talent he has been given.
Sun Devil Nation is willing to forgive him and hop back on his bandwagon. He just needs to say "my bad" and work to regain that radiance of future success that he so recently had.
But sadly, with each action and now each statement, those chances dim even more.
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