Leave Vontaze Burfict Alone
Talented Linebacker Is A Target Of Critics and Fans Alike But Is It Warranted?
Vontaze Burfict after a game against USC. Image by Neon Tommy and used under the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
By Bob Goodwood
Modern Times Magazine
Aug. 10, 2011 — When word started to leak last week that Arizona State University Linebacker Vontaze Burfict had gotten into an altercation with a teammate in the locker room, the local and national sports world began to reverberate.
Across the country, critics grinned. Here was the evidence that Burfict, perhaps the best linebacker in college football and maybe the NFL next year, was a violent, uncontrollable rage machine who was a menace to society.
Then, the story changed. Coach Dennis Erickson claimed it was a ‘football thing’ that just happens. Anyone who has ever played organized football — from Pop Warner to the NCAA — should understand that one. Sometimes things happen on the field and sometimes they drift off the field.
Football is not golf, OK?
Is teammates fighting in the locker room a good thing? Most of the time, it isn’t, but anyone not on that team and not in that locker room really have no idea what went on. If the team doesn’t have a problem with it — as is indicated by a peer judiciary not taking any apparent actions — then why does everyone else?
Burfict came to ASU with a reputation as a ‘hothead’ and he has done nothing in his two years in maroon and gold to to stymie that opinion. He has had a substantial amount of roughing and unsportsmanlike penalties that led to his ceremonial benching last year.
He is also wary of the media. Those in big media don’t like it much when the best player on the team won’t talk to them or read promos for their station. That definitely doesn’t help his image. When he was a no-show for media day last week, critics smelled a rat and the fight story was the juicy morsel of Burfict’s dark side they were yerning to reveal.
This madness must end. Burfict is a 20-year-old kid. If he has some emotional issues, he wouldn’t be the first kid emerging from his teen years with a violent, aggressive side.
To make the situation a bit more complicated, this 20-year-old kid is one of the best linebackers to ever play at ASU and one of the best in the country. His football instincts are clearly as good as it gets at this level.
He is expected to be a guy who can run over huge men and punish them physically. If he truly does have emotional issues, those two things must be very hard to reconcile.
But until Burfict actually does something really wrong — like commit a crime or hurt someone outside of a clean football play — his emotional state is the business of the team and his family. He might play for the Sun Devils, but Burfict is still a kid on scholarship. It is the duty of the community and university to support this kid.
Make no mistake, if Burfict crosses the line, he deserves to have the book thrown at him. After all, he knows he is a target.
But the reality is although the kid is probably a bit more aggressive than critics think he should be, he has not crossed an ethical line of impropriety in two years of living under a microscope. He is not LeGarrette Blount, the former Oregon tailback who started a fight at Boise State a few years ago.
Give the kid a chance to grow into a man without a label that reads in big, bold, letters: PROBLEM CHILD.
Leave Vontaze Burfict alone.
Bob Goodwood is a freelance writer currently living in Scottsdale, Ariz.