The Kids Are Alright

Vishnu Parasuraman (aka 2003alumgocanes) Follow on Twitter and Facebook

One of the tragic things about the Nevin Shapiro scandal is that it picked the scab on a wound that never seems to heal properly.  Since the 1980s, a palpable bias has lingered in the treatment of the University of Miami, most notably the players.  It takes one incident, one story, and the hate comes bubbling out.

And it is always extreme.  It extends from fans to media, who flippantly refer to the players as “thugs” (one can’t help but wonder if thug would be replaced by another word if this was 50 years ago).  It results in outlandish calls for the shutting down of the football program.  The true story behind the University of Miami is a much different picture from the one painted by the likes of Mark May.  Before calling for the death of a program, perhaps it would be nice if someone paused and thought about what they are saying needs to be killed.

A Disney Movie

As part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 film series, they released a documentary on the University of Miami football program entitled The U and directed by critically acclaimed Billy Corben.  The movie brought to the forefront the polarizing nature of the Miami football program.  For us ‘Canes fans, it served as a reminder of what we are, where we come from and why we love this school.  For the rest of the country, it reminded them why they hate us.

Lost in the back and forth, and the bias, was the underlying story.  Much of the post-documentary commentary was about show boating, the Miami rules, and Pell Grants.  But the most fascinating part of the story is actually about how Miami went from almost canceling their football program in the late 70s to winning a national championship in 1983.  How did Miami, the small private school with no budget, ascend to the top of the college football world with such swiftness?  It wasn’t because they cheated.  It wasn’t luck.

It was the local Miami community, which today still serves as the backbone of the University of Miami football program.  In the early 1980s, a generation of high school students in South Florida decided that instead of going to an out of state or in state powerhouse, they were going to go to the local private school.  The small school.  The forgotten program.  And they were going to lift up the program and turn over the college football world.  They succeeded and forever changed the college football landscape while unifying an entire community that was struggling through race riots. It’s the sort of rags to riches story that you could easily mistake for a Disney Movie.

And yet the program continues to be vilified, its roots long since forgotten.  But that foundation from 30 years ago still exists today. The program is still the South Florida community’s heart and soul, because the program is the community.

How do you define a quality program?

Over the past decade, the Miami football program has increased their focus on academics and off field discipline.  Stronger entrance requirements were initiated for incoming recruits to make sure they could handle college level classes.  On top of that, the University has been strenuous in making sure that academics are a focus on campus.

And the results have paid off.  Miami’s football program has one of the best APRs (NCAA academic ranking) in the country and has twice been honored for outstanding academic work.  Ask your local pundit why he wants to shut THAT down?

One of the players named in the Yahoo! report was Jonathan Vilma. Jonathan Vilma was a star linebacker at the University of Miami.  He was a surefire first round pick.  And yet he focused on his studies as well.  In addition to collecting football trophies and awards, he collected academic awards, being named an Academic All American.  Is that not what we WANT from our student athletes?  Jonathan Vilma should be held up as a model for any and all 5-star recruits, that you can star on the field and in the classroom.  Perhaps he would have been, had he gone to Notre Dame.

I Stand With The U

Bryan Jenkins has started an online movement to rally supporters of the University of Miami.  Some outsiders have dismissed this as a fan base burying their heads in the sand, supporting a program no matter what it does.

We are not naive.  Violations occurred here, there is no disputing that.   Penalties will be meted out, and some already have.  When the kids screw up, we will take them to task for it.  And, in the case of someone like Marcus Robinson, wrongly accused and since cleared, I assume the media will be apologizing to him immediately (don’t hold your breath Marcus).

But what we object to is the demonization of good kids, the call for the end of something that is our community.  We saw Jacory Harris play high school football at Miami Northwestern High School.  We saw him come to the University of Miami and battle here.  He is a soft-spoken, cheerful, all around good kid.  We won’t let the talking heads turn him into the devil because he took $140 worth of benefits.

It’s the kids that are front and center, the kids that take the brunt of the criticism.  They have faced so much adversity these past 2 weeks because 12 guys on the team took a total of under $5,000 after being corrupted by a con artist.  When Mark May goes on TV and calls for the death of the program, that incites some idiot fan to yell racial epitaphs at the players, 18-22 year olds who are mostly not accused of any wrongdoing.  They represent all of us.  And when the vultures circle, and with vitriol being hurled at them from all directions, being hurled at mostly innocent kids, if we won’t defend them, who will?

I will defend these kids.  They deserve it.  They stay out of trouble, they go to class, they graduate, they inspire an entire community.  As an alum of the University of Miami, these kids make me proud.  These kids are good for college football and good for our local society.  What is portrayed in the media is not an accurate depiction of who we are as a community and who these kids are.  While it is an uphill battle to fight the current of vitriol and change the minds of people who decided decades ago (before many of the players on the current team were born) that anyone wearing a U on their helmet is a “thug”, we couldn’t ask for better ambassadors.

We stand by the U not just because we want to be entertained, not just because we went to school there, but because we ARE the U.  South Florida is the U.  The symbiotic relationship between the community and the University represents a bond that is forged in steel, that is way too strong to be severed by this scandal.  It’s a ‘Canes thing, you wouldn’t understand.

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