Opinion: North Alabama’s decision should raise awareness to increasing social (media) concerns

Former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was on the receiving end of some ignorant remarks last week.

Former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was on the receiving end of some ignorant remarks last week.

The issue of race is one I am largely uncomfortable discussing for the most part, but several recent incidents have undoubtedly raised awareness of just where our country stands when it comes to such issues. While I would like to think our country has made tremendous strides in civil rights and equality I recognize that there is still a good amount of work still to be made.

As a white male I have always felt uncomfortable saying just where this nation stands on a variety of race issues. Who am I to suggest this nation is free or largely free from prejudice and racism when I am not in the demographic that should be able to speak about it or evaluate.

When ESPN television personality Rob Parker shared his thoughts on Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, a player long time visitors to No 2-Minute Warning know I have long been a fan of, I could not help but cringe. Despicable would b the word I would politely use to describe Parker’s comments and I felt a suspension from ESPN‘s airwaves was the least the network could do.

On Friday a troubled gunman entered an elementary school and executed innocent children and some brave adults who looked to save them before taking his own life as police arrived on the scene. It is being called one of those most horrific school shootings, and general shootings, in this nation’s history. Ranking shootings seems trivial to me because all are heartbreaking. When we no longer have the security to confidently say even the smallest of neighborhoods and the most innocent of places such as an elementary school are safe from harm,

On Sunday night a multi-faith memorial service was held in the town of Newtown, Connecticut to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on Friday. The vigil was attended by President Barack Obama, who said he was there to bring the somber town the support of the nation. The President’s attendance and speech caused the networks to abandon their regularly schedule programming to air the president’s comments as they were made. This meant NBC had to do what rarely happens; cut away from NFL football.

I would venture to say most fans watching the game were understanding of the logic used by NBC. This shooting brings everything else to standstill as we reflect on what is actually important in our society. Football, as with all sports, serves as nothing more than a diversion from the harsh reality in our world. NBC treated it as such, moving the game to other NBC outlets until the president had concluded his somber remarks.

This, of course, will not stop stupid people from spouting off, as documented and archived by Deadspin. In this age of social media with Facebook and Twitter, everybody has an instant voice, yet few will pause to think about potential repercussions of having their voice shared publicly. Just ask former North Alabama long snapper Bradley Patterson, who tweeted a derogatory word in reference to the president, one that makes me always feel uncomfortable.

Image via LostLettermen.com

Image via LostLettermen.com

Patterson’s tweet referred to the president as the “n-word” (again, I am uncomfortable saying the word, so I will not write it) and suggested we all just want to watch football. Soon after his initial tweet showed up on Deadspin, Patterson backtracked in the most befuddled fashion, deleting the tweet, trying to say his account was hacked after vehemently backing up his initial thoughts. His tweet was re-tweeted tow North Alabama’s athletics Twitter account by many, and the school made a quick decision to act on Patterson’s place on their football team.

They removed him.

The decision was applauded by many, including me. Of course, just as there are those who will throw the “n-word” in the direction of our nation’s leader there are those who suggest North Alabama is infringing on Patterson’s First Amendment rights and freedom of speech.

First, realize that the First Amendment is designed to provide protection to a separation of church and state, allows media to report fairly without government infringement and for people to assemble and protest in a peaceful manner. Patterson’s First Amendment rights are not being violated by North Alabama. He, and everyone else, are still free to express their opinions, no matter how uncivil, naive, insulting, prejudice or asinine they may be.

Second, freedom of speech allows for any person to express any distasteful sentiment toward government or an individual

You have a right to say whatever you want. You do not have a right to play football.

North Alabama made the decision to cut Patterson because they did not want that attitude representing what the school stands for. Maybe some schools would refrain from going this far. North Alabama made the right decision though.

The college football world I want to be supportive of has no room for Patterson’s remarks or thoughts. I’m not naive enough to think this solves the problem around the college football map when it comes to racism. I’m sure there are more racists around the sport. Patterson may not even be a racist for all we know. A poor choice of words may have been just that. I don’t know. Patterson may be a great person, but whatever the case may be he is the latest example all schools should share with their athletes.

Twitter can be a great tool, but players (and coaches) need to think about the reach it potentially has. We have seen it time and time again at all schools, with some coaches going so far as to ban their team from using Twitter or Facebook. As much good that come out of Twitter, just as much bad can come from it as well.

This is a walk on long snapper from a Division 2 school, but even the top blue chip players playing in the big conferences should take note.

One tweet really can change your future. Patterson found out the hard way.

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About the author

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com and managing editor of Crystal Ball Run. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.