Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

May everyone learn a lesson from a young athlete

I was all set to write a column about how the Indians are in the process of "Tim Couching" Fausto Carmona, but then I read the article about former St. Edward football player and current Ohio State offensive lineman Alex Boone in Sunday's Plain Dealer.

The last thing I am going to do is take a shot at a teen-age athlete. Of course, I applaud Boone for trying to turn his life around. He said he has not taken a drink of alcohol in four months and he is willing to speak publicly about his mistakes.

His quotes especially near the end of the article, which can still be read at, are pretty powerful stuff.
Boone is lucky he did not kill himself or anyone else. He could have been kicked out of the university or the football team. Everyone deserves a second chance, so I will not question the fact that Boone was not suspended for a single game and will be the starting left tackle for the nation's preseason number one ranked team and personal bodyguard for Heisman trophy favorite Troy Smith.

If Boone keeps his word and refrains from alcohol, I say let him play and hope he can deter other teens from drinking. But if he doesn't, I hope the university keeps its word and expels him. His ability to protect the quarterback should not give him special treatment.

My real concern is about more than Boone. When the teenage Boone drunkenly crashed his car into another, the assistant coach in the story is quoted by Boone as saying, "What were you doing driving a car while you were drunk?"

To me the question should have been since Boone is two years away from the legal age to drink is "Why were you drinking?"

In the article, Boone admits to starting to drink in the eighth grade and continuing to drink though high school. We all know that is not uncommon.

A quick check of confirms that not only are many local high school athletes drinking, they are so brazen about it that they don't even hide it. Comments and photos are easily found online.

Drinking is what the cool kids do, right? That is what Hollywood tells us. Underage drinking has been around forever. Can't change that can we?

I drink. And drinking in and of itself is not a bad thing. Naturally, it should be done in a safe environment. One reason for a drinking age is the hope that someone is mature enough to make smart decisions and not allow excess and peer pressure to lead to bad situations. And we all know adults who still can't handle it.

It is easy to pin responsibility on the parents. But we all know that who your parents are and how much they care is more of a lottery than anything else. You can't pick them out yourself.

A coach is something else. An athlete chooses to be part of team. And it is the coach who often spends more time with a kid than a parent and often has more effect on behavior. A coach can't turn a blind eye and say kids are kids. A coach can't hide behind, "If I don't know then it doesn't happen." A coach can shape the future of a kid more off the field of play than on it. A coach needs to insist his or her team doesn't drink with the "I don't care if everyone else does," it is against the law — mine and the government's.

But at the same time, you would hope the coach is not at the party. That is when leadership comes into play.

In the article Boone said he has tried to apologize to the people whose first beer came at the insistence of a 300-pound football player. As a captain of a team are you getting the younger kids their first beer or are you protecting them? What kind of leader are you?

Maybe you can drink two or three beers then stop. Maybe it is fun to relax and have a beer and chill among friends. You can argue, I am at home in my basement and no one drives. But what if that kid on your team comes from an alcoholic family? Maybe you can stop, but his or her one beer always leads to finishing off the 12-pack or more. Boone said he drank to drink. There were times he would drink over 20 beers a day and sometimes more than 40, often alone. Leadership is more than off the court. Teams often talk about being a family. In a family you are responsible for more than what takes place on the field or court. A family takes care of each other 24/7. Drinking may be safe and fun for you — but your example could lead someone less strong than you down a dark road.

If the law isn't enough to get someone underage to avoid the pitfalls of drinking, then maybe, just maybe, team pride and commitment could.

High school memories should be about what happens on the field and not at the party afterwards. You will never forget a courageous win, what happened at a party is often forgotten the next morning — well by you — everyone else will remember if you did something stupid. You only get one chance for athletic glory, you have the rest of your life to drink.