Hang around a college football program long enough and you'll learn a thing or two about the players, their backgrounds and their struggles. That linebacker with pro aspirations who excels on the field? He struggled to even get into school, and academics are a daily battle -- made worse by a learning disability that's plagued him throughout his life. That defensive back,who shies away from contact and can't figure out how to cover the fourth-string receiver? He's a 4.0 student; might even be your boss someday.
Athletes have a significant amount of academic help at their disposal, and once they're in the system, it's unlikely they'll ever fall off the map -- especially the most athletically gifted. An army of tutors and a large safety net in the form of an academic support staff can, and will, make sure an athlete does enough to stay on the right side of the NCAA requirements, whether the athlete has an underlying learning issue or just doesn't care.
And things aren't always as they seem. The shy kid is shy because he struggles to learn -- missing the book smarts needed for the student part of student-athlete. Hell of a player, hell of a poor student. And yet, that quiet kid is quiet because he's embarrassed, feeling like he's behind everyone else while he sits through lengthy tutoring sessions, struggling to pick up basic concepts that are second nature to most.
Morris Claiborne reportedly scored a four on the Wonderlic Test -- an aptitude exam given to players at the NFL Combine. The test is out of 50. Four, as one can imagine, is a terrible score.
There's a few problems here, beginning with the information itself. We go through the same song and dance every year -- an exceptionally bad score is leaked, the NFL expresses shock it got out, and safeguards protecting athletes from having sensitive information leaked are promised. And then it happens again the next year. Information that should be private, part of a large dossier on each player, is rarely kept a secret. Nothing in the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft is a secret.
Without context, a four is a bad thing. Information, however, is useless without context. Does Claiborne have underlying problems picking up concepts and basic information? Is there something preventing him from learning? Why, then, did Claiborne excel in LSU's defensive scheme if, as many would lead you to believe, he's a "typical dumb jock," no better than a tree stump. The context is more important than the score itself, especially for teams preparing to invest millions in Claiborne. If he can diagram defenses, understand his role and let his talents do the talking, that four doesn't mean a thing.
Finally, what in the world does a Wonderlic Test have to do with being a defensive back? Is Claiborne going to have to add and subtract defensive linemen on the field? Will he need to "find what number is next in the sequence" while reading a quarterback? There's a difference between football smarts and book smarts. Pretty sure Claiborne knows how to cover, can understand schemes, and is able lock down an opposing wide receiver.
If you're upset by this news because Claiborne managed to stay eligible and on track to graduate, as the NCAA requires: why? Is it because he didn't take the traditional route to riches, fulfilling his educational requirements and becoming an innovator? Is it because he's going to make a large sum of money off his athletic ability, not his brain? Is it that jarring to realize the student part of student-athlete is, in some cases, laughable? Because this isn't new.
The irony in all of this? Odds are some team leaked Claiborne's Wonderlic score in hopes of creating public backlash, perhaps influencing teams ahead of them in the draft to pass on the talented corner. It won't work; it never does. But it does embarrass the living hell out of a player who is, essentially, innocent.
So who's the idiot? The kid who struggled on an aptitude test that won't mean a damn thing once he's in the NFL? Or the people who passed the test score along, hoping for some kind of advantage that will never come?