As a sports editor, I must constantly monitor the world of professional sports, searching desperately each week for an intriguing story worthy of inclusion in the Outside Oberlin section of the Review. Occasionally, my research leads me to stories with happy endings, stories that are both inspirational and exhilarating. The recent heroics of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, for instance, reminded me that baseball is still a beautiful game, not simply a corporate enterprise being torn apart by avaricious agents, corrupt owners, and spoiled athletes. Meanwhile, the remarkable feats of Casey Martin - who fought for the right to play on the professional golf circuit despite his physical inability to walk the greens - are proof that the human spirit can overcome the greatest adversity. Unfortunately, such stories have become the exception, not the rule.
Too often, the sports section of any major newspaper bears a close resemblance to the police blotter, as the criminal records of our favorite athletes - from Mo Vaughn to Kerry Collins, Latrell Sprewell to Mike Tyson - are spread out across the back pages. On a good day, I am relieved to discover that my favorite basketball player - Larry Bird, whose retired Celtics jersey hangs in my closet - has only fathered an illegitimate child for whom he provides no financial support or paternal care; certainly, his actions are disturbing, but at least he has never thrown fire crackers into crowds of adoring fans, a la Vince Coleman of the New York Mets.
This week, I am pleased to present the story of an athlete who has defied the low expectations of his peers, an athlete whose troubled past has been left behind during his ascension to fame in the National Football League. His name? Randy Moss, the rookie wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings.
You remember Randy Moss. He is the talented wideout who lost scholarships to prestigious football institutions like Notre Dame and Florida State University because of his lengthy criminal record. He is the same Randy Moss who, after breaking the NCAA record for touchdown receptions with 25 during his time at Marshall University, was selected by the Vikings with the 21st pick in the last NFL draft. Moss had been projected by many scouts as the third pick in the draft, of course, but NFL general managers and coaches from 19 other teams - the Cincinnati Bengals held the 13th and 17th picks - could not bring themselves to risk the possibility that Moss might be in prison before the beginning of the preseason in August.
And their fears were justified. Moss had, at the ripe old age of 20, been convicted of assault, possession of marijuana, and domestic battery. Finally, the controversial wide receiver had abruptly excused himself from the NFL scouting combine in February, citing dental surgery as the reason for his departure.
Mike Ditka, whose New Orleans Saints have become a halfway home for troubled athletes, summarized the feelings of fellow coaches when he described Moss' behavior as "suspicious." He added that his organization, whose passing attack has struggled for years to produce touchdowns, had lost interest in acquiring the wideout, despite his vast potential.
Too bad for the Saints. Vikings coach and noted author Dennis Green insisted that Moss would benefit from a little discipline, the advice of veteran wideouts like Cris Carter (who battled cocaine addiction before his own ascent to stardom), and an offensive system that relies upon speed and agility. Green was right. Currently, Moss is among the league leaders in receiving yards and touchdowns, even though he is primarily a third down wideout. Through his first ten games, he has 36 receptions for 698 yards and seven touchdowns - or, four more than Jerry Rice had during his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers. Incidentally, Moss has managed to accomplish these feats without any involuntary visits to Minneapolis correctional facilities.
Admittedly, the saga of Randy Moss has an intriguing beginning, but it lacks a middle and an end. As Hubbard Alexander, the Vikings' receivers coach, said during a recent interview, "We've only begun to scratch the surface with him, and I don't think he knows that."
Then again, who knows anything at this stage of the game? Perhaps Moss will ultimately live down to expectations of his detractors, like so many of his fellow athletes. Perhaps he will join Michael Irvin for a late night visit to a Dallas brothel, or Kerry Collins for an intoxicated drive down I-95. In the meantime, let us take an unbiased look at Randy Moss and acknowledge that the NFL coaches were wrong, that a rap sheet does not provide a window into the soul of a human being, and that this kid - with all of his touchdowns and his remarkable average of 19.4 yards per reception - is truly all right.
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 10, November 20, 1998
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