Keeping it Together

May 15, 2008
By Robert Scales, Hinsdale, IL

Jacob Whitten was looking into a crystal ball. A bright, glamorous future hovered over. He was the third best running back recruit in the country. Whitten was heavily scouted and over 50 Division I schools offered full scholarships. However, he’d always carried a significantly tarnished reputation. His father was caught cheating on his former wife many times. Whitten had dodged all standard, southern racial discrimination with his stellar play. He was the team’s juggernaut, carrying the entire team. Originally, he was considered scum and tasted the bitterness of southern injustice. Oklahoma had seen its share of riots against the Civil Rights Act, but, residents accepted this as a fact of life. Blacks simply weren’t looked at the same way as whites. Whitten was only one of three blacks on the team.

A murder occurred in Rosenville. A young, 23 year-old female was sadistically beaten, tortured and murdered. There were no clear leads. It was believed that the killer was 6 feet tall, close to 200 lbs. and Caucasian, as identified by the primary eye witness. There were three hair strands left at the scene. No match was found.

One and a half years later, Whitten was riding a 1.87 GPA at Georgia. He was voted freshman of the year, last year, and he was conveying flames again this year. He was on the verge of flunking out, and he would, if he didn’t get his act together. After finishing third in rushing yards and fourth in touchdowns, his freshman year, he was leading both statistics after five games that year. Whitten was a drinker. Every night after practice, he’d go, get drunk, and neglect all homework sessions. It was no secret that he was an alcoholic. If another black were to be in complete disregard of federal law, he would’ve faced deep consequences. But, not Jacob Whitten, the stud. Upon his admission to George, integration of other races and classes took off.

Whitten was ignorant. He seemed oblivious to the happenings of the world. He knew little of the consequences of his academic and athletic lassitude. He enjoyed basking in his fame. The $500,000 bribe he received, as initiative to attend Georgia, was nearly spent. The feds were on his tail about the bribes, but nothing could be proven. Whitten was one to boast of his luxuries, amenities and privileges. Suspicion rose every time he left his dorm. What would he trash? Who would he threaten? How much would he steal? It wasn’t “if”, but, “what”. Whitten committed his second DUI late that October. By NCAA law, his scholarship was to be revoked. His dreams were damaged, but, they were in no way tarnished. He’d have to surrender the rest of his sophomore year, and because of his multiple misdemeanors and run-ins with the law, he wouldn’t be allowed to red-shirt his sophomore year. Would anyone want to recruit him?

After two weeks of waiting out for some quality offers, Whitten received only two Division II offerings. Neither one appealed to him. Maybe declaring for the NFL draft was a worthy proposition? He seriously contemplated that idea. He’d had only one and half years of college experience, but, he matured quickly. Whitten was indolent. He hadn’t worked out in the two weeks since leaving the team, and his stress increased his appetite. He had no future plans to tune his skills. This was a man who took his gift for granted. Once heralded as a hard worker, he was now dependent on fame and appreciation to fuel him.

Talent wise, he was a first round draft pick, if not top 10, but certainly in the first round. But, inexperience and “baggage” disabled him from being a first day pick. His stock propelled, as videotapes of past seasons were studied. However, his behavior off the field was bizarre, even after the season. His gun was in connection with a gang fight. Whitten was accused of rape, but, the charges were later dropped. Although his personality and behavior were erratic, his immense skill set was vividly defined. A strong combine showing could possibly escalate him into the late third round. However, the hopeful showing proved to be an embarrassment. Whitten arrived at the camp 15 lbs. overweight. His 40 yard dash was 4.58, compared to his previous 4.34. His bench press and vertical were also dramatically down. Whitten was bloodshot and wasted from long nights of despair and binge drinking. His fall from glory was rapidly picking up speed. No team could find a place to showcase his amazing versatility of skills. Draft Day became Doom’s Day.

“The Houston Titans are proud to select RB Jason Whitten from the University of Georgia with the 177th pick in the NFL draft”, belted the commissioner.

Jason Whitten flashed a sigh of relief that could stun a tiger prancing on its prey. Once crowned as a future star, he went from a possible #1 overall pick, in a few years, to the 17th pick of the NFL Draft’s 6th round. His parents tried to keep amiable. They, without a doubt, were disappointed, but, they knew that he’d receive a few hundred thousand dollars from the signing bonus. They would have to cope with that.

The official signing bonus agreed upon was $413,000. He acquired a 2-year contract with a 3rd year as a team option. Year one, he was scheduled to make $600,000. Year-two, he signed for $725,000. The option year was for $850,000. Of the maximum value, only $662,500 of the salary was guaranteed, half of it. Considering the fact that 176 players were drafted in front of him, he signed an acceptable contract. The league minimum was $500,000 per year. He would be making an average of $662,500 a year, without the option year.

Whitten gave a persuasive performance in training camp. He was tenacious and devoted to achieve the status set out for him. Then, it went bad. He was at the center of a fight involving the team’s starting running back. The altercation immediately became heated. The sole person, in the near vicinity, to have the change to break it up was the team’s doctor. And, what was he to do? The football players were twice his size. The fight occurred off the field and both players were pad less. Both players sustained serious injuries. Whitten was lucky. He received only a fractured left wrist and bruised right elbow. Chris Brown, the starting running back, had a concussion from a blow to the head, along with a broken left arm – in 3 places. His left fibula was shattered. Since Whitten initiated the fight, severe consequences followed. He was suspended all through the camp and pre-season, and until the onset of the regular season. This crucial event would delay his progression and development. His dream began to crumble and feel far-fetched.

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