I feel sorry for Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict
Published: August 08, 2011 @ 11:41am
I feel sorry for Vontaze Burfict.
It may sound odd for me to say that about a 20-year-old kid who is on the doorstep of the NFL, with a world's worth of talent and every opportunity to earn millions of dollars on Sunday, but I do.
It probably sounds even odder after reports over the weekend emerged claiming Burfict was involved in an altercation with teammate Kevin Ozier in the locker room. It's actually said reports -- whichever version you choose to believe -- that made me feel this way.
The fact that Burfict was allegedly involved in a post-practice fight wasn't surprising to me in the least. He has had his fair share of problems since high school. It's the fact that these situations keep emerging that make me feel for him as a person.
See, I look at Burfict in the same way I look at childhood stars in Hollywood. They grow up in an environment where those around them become enablers. Ignoring their problems in favor of telling them just how talented they are. It's a byproduct of being young and thrust into the spotlight either on film or a football field.
Some in Hollywood, like Lindsay Lohan and Corey Feldman, struggle with the spotlight and eventually burn out. The years of being sheltered and not handling their problems head on took their toll. Others, like Drew Barrymore and Robert Downey Jr., struggle for years before overcoming their issues and handlers and maturing. They realize their shortcomings, and with the help of some of the people around them, they rise above them.
This seems to be the crossroads the Sun Devil's talented, yet troubled, linebacker finds himself at. Learn how to overcome the personal issues and become great, or waste brilliant potential.
All of the onus can't be placed squarely on the young man's shoulders. Some of the responsibility has to be placed at the feet of ASU. At some point Burfict has to be disciplined when his emotions get the best of him (and I'm not talking about just keeping him out of the starting lineup). Suspending him, or better yet getting him whatever help he may need off the field -- anger management classes come to mind but I'm not a psychologist, I'm just playing one in this column -- is what needs to happen to put him on the path to future success.
It's a method that has been successful with Burfict in the past. During his sophomore year of high school at Corona Centennial in California the linebacker struggled with his grades. Instead of having him focus both on football and the classroom, the school suspended him for ten games that season to focus on his education. From all accounts the method worked.
"I got more mature, and I moved in with my step-mom," Burfict told the USA Today in 2007 as a high schooler. "She had a talk with me about my grades … if I was going to stay in her house, I'm going to have to keep my grades up. There's definitely a lot of pressure on me to do better.
"I realized that if I wanted to play football and reach my dream of going to college, then I'm going to have to grow up and do better with my grades. I don't know why it took so long to realize it."
After numerous costly penalties based on emotional outbursts and now an alleged locker room altercation, it may be time for Burfict to receive some tough love again. This is about more than winning football games or building a solid football program, this is about a young man's world and how he functions in it.
This time it's not just a chance at going to college on the line, but his future career and livelihood. Isn't that worth getting to the core of the problem rather than just brushing it off as just ‘things that happen on the field?'
ASU isn't the first college athletics program to face this issue -- see Oregon and LeGarrette Blount -- and they certainly won't be the last. I just feel sorry for Votaze Burfict. He's caught in a system that is as much concerned about what he can do for it as what it can do for him.