Josh Kendall

Marcus Lattimore was taking a shot, but not at South Carolina

Marcus Lattimore
Marcus Lattimore

So Marcus Lattimore went to Washington, D.C., this week, and unlike most people who go to our nation’s capital, he actually accomplished something.

What Lattimore accomplished was to create a week’s worth (and counting) of fodder for the college football offseason echo chamber.

To review: Lattimore said this during a panel on health, safety and well-being at a meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics: “There have been many instances in my college career — and also my colleagues’ — where we were forced to question some of the programs being administered, particularly between strength and conditioning. I’m not a physiologist or a certified strength and conditioning coach, but during my younger years, I was taught there was a correct way to do things when it comes to exercise. Athletic trainers take classes and have certain credentials that have to be met. Some strength and conditioning coaches I have met have been absolutely brilliant and have great knowledge of the body. I’ve also experienced and been told from colleagues some coaches were hired because they were connected to the head coach and have very little experience or credentials.”

He said this in a statement he released to several local media outlets later that day meant to address the concern that he was talking about a specific person at South Carolina: “I was asked to speak about health and safety for the Knight Commission for student-athletes and give some insight on what I think should be of importance. I said we should take a look at the people we spend the most time with during our four years, which is the strength coach.”

He said this to reporter Jon Solomon after his comments in Washington: “The (head strength coaches) I had in college were pretty good, but there were some on staff that, embarrassingly enough, I knew more than. I wouldn’t say the head guy, but he has a staff of about five or six guys who I knew more about correct technique, running and lifting weights. At other universities, players expressed the same concerns, which I guess was shocking to me because these are the guys you’re entrusting to get them faster, get them stronger. It was definitely a concern I wanted to express.”

Here’s what Lattimore didn’t say: Anything wrong.

This was not a “shot” at South Carolina or any indication that he won’t continue to have a very positive and mutually beneficial relationship with his alma mater.

It was a very fair observation of a system in which college athletes are at the mercy of college coaches, staffers and administrators in virtually every aspect of their lives. We all have gotten so caught up in the compensation question (Should athletes be paid or allowed to receive endorsement models?) that we’ve not paid enough attention to all the other areas where the power imbalance puts athletes in a tough position.

College athletes, and college football players in particular, would have to be dense not to wonder at times, “Hey, wait a minute, is this particular caretaker of mine first and foremost looking after my best interest or the best interest of the school?” Guess what? The answer is almost always the school.

The issue ranges from academics, where afternoon labs make it very difficult for many athletes to major in science-related fields (Kudos here to new South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, who is considering holding fall practices in the morning in part because it will allow more academic flexibility for his players.) to the health and wellness issues raised by Lattimore.

Among the concerns raised by Lattimore was the fact that he wouldn’t have felt comfortable seeing a sports psychologist who was employed by his school. Do I think a medical specialist at any school would jeopardize a players’ health for a first down conversion or a mental health specialist would reveal a confidential detail from a session with a player? Absolutely not. If I was a player who existed in a system where all the power rested somewhere else, would I wonder about those things sometimes? Absolutely.

One of the hot topics of this offseason is whether or not college football needs a czar, an overseer to sort out squabbles in the sport. So we’re talking about whether or not another adult executive needs to be hired because too many college adults can’t keep their own rooms clean, and we’re not talking about how to address absolutely legitimate and important concerns raised by Lattimore and others?

Instead, we’re worried about whether those absolutely legitimate and important concerns are going to affect recruiting? We can do better than that.

Give South Carolina credit for programs like the “Gamecock Promise,” which includes a four-year scholarship commitment and a degree completion element among other things. That program should be a model for others, and it should only be the beginning of empowering these athletes.

Marcus Lattimore didn’t take a shot at South Carolina. He took a shot at a system that can stand a few.

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