People first and athletes second

Andrew Little | The Chronicle

Life is fragile. Sadly, nothing reminds people of that more than tragedy. On the morning of April 9, former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins passed away after being struck by a car on a highway. 

Like many, I found out from seeing the initial report tweeted by Adam Schefter, the most prominent reporter in football. His choice to include the line “before struggling to catch on with Washington and Pittsburgh in the NFL” came as a shock. A 24-year-old died suddenly and tragically and a respected journalist decided to reference the struggles of his early career. 

Dwayne Haskins was more than an athlete trying to find his place in the NFL. 

Yes, we all came to know him because of his time as quarterback of the Ohio State Buckeyes where he conducted one of the most prolific passing offenses of the decade before becoming a first-round pick. And yes, Haskins’ professional career didn’t go as planned, but that’s all irrelevant. 

He’s still a young man gone too soon. 

A son taken from a family. 

A husband taken from a wife.

I don’t want to villainize Schefter. He was a man doing his job that made a mistake. While his apology left some to be desired, it sheds light on the bigger issue. Gil Brandt, an NFL Hall of Famer, spoke on a podcast directly after Haskins’ death where he criticized the 24-year-old’s lifestyle. Again, Brandt apologized, but that doesn’t change that his brain immediately went to criticism and analysis of Haskins. This issue plagues many of us as fans, albeit in less obvious ways. 

We fail to see the bigger picture, see athletes, instead of just being celebrities with sports careers, as human beings.

Professional athletes are placed on a pedestal. They are larger than life, role models to children, and envied by many. With that fame, we as fans often forget their humanity. 

Should athletes be immune to criticism? Absolutely not.

When you work in such a public setting where your salary comes from fans investing their hard-earned money in you and your team, criticism is a given by-product. But it should stop at the field.

Another former Buckeye, Harry Miller, recently brought this issue to light. The offensive lineman announced his retirement from football citing his struggles with mental health in a gut-wrenching statement. Thankfully, Miller got the help he needed and is here as an advocate for athletes’ safety. One line that stood out to me was “I was planning on being reduced to my initials on a sticker on the back of a helmet.” Under different, but still, tragic circumstances, Dwayne Haskins’ initials were marked on the field and became a helmet sticker at the 2022 Ohio State spring game, and possibly into the regular season this fall.

That doesn’t mean Haskins will be reduced to his initials. He left a legacy that will long outlive him. Those that knew him characterized him as a passionate and energetic young man that gave life to all those he was around. He was a quarterback and a leader of men on and off the field.

As the football community mourns the loss of a young man taken away from us far too soon, let’s also celebrate his accomplishments and all the joy that his play brought. Let him serve as a reminder to treat athletes with genuine humanity and respect. 

Rest In Peace, #7.

Illustration by Alisha Verma