Why Do We Always Make Them Thugs?

February 9, 2018

 

Tuesday, February 6th, was “National Signing Day.” This is the day when many of the nation’s best high school football players announce what college they will be committing to attend and play out their collegiate careers.

 

Thanks in part to a new early signing period, the 2018 National Signing Day lacked much of the traditional fanfare of the past; as many of the country’s best players had already signed with colleges back in December.

 

For fans, the day’s excitement is centered around a host of live press conferences that occur throughout the day; as the nation’s Blue Chip athletes declare their collegiate allegiance.

 

With the expansion of the Information Age, these live announcements have taken on a life of their own. Typically, these commitments come with a flare of intrigue as a young athlete will have several hats with different college's logos lined up in front of them, aimed at keeping fans and coaches in suspense as to what school these premier athletes will be choosing. Some National Signing Day announcements can elaborate spectacles with marching bands and cheerleaders in tow.

 

Though tempered by the fact that a vast majority of the best high school football players we’re on college campuses two months ago, 2018’s National Signing Day still offered fans enough live attraction to keep the day interesting. Unfortunately, for one young man, his announcement generated more attention than he probably would have liked.

Many people across the nation, both college football fans, and non-fans alike, saw the #24th ranked wide receiver in the nation, Jacob Copeland commit to playing at the University of Florida. The video of Jacob's commitment to play for the Gators quickly generated viral attention; for less than fortunate reasons.

 

As Jacob passed over baseball caps bearing the logos of the University of Alabama and Tennessee, and donned a royal blue cap with a Gator on it, announcing his intent to make Gainesville home for the next four years, something remarkable occurred.

 

Jacob’s mother, wearing an Alabama sweatshirt and Tennessee hat, got up from her seat next to her son, and visibly upset, stormed off the stage.  With a atypical poise for a teenager, Copeland  handled this bizarre scene well,  even after an ESPN announcer asked him the cringe-worthy question, “Who was that who just walked off?”

 

 

 

Jacob’s mother would eventually come back and hug her son, seeming to make amends with him over the spectacle she had caused with her obvious disappointment with his college choice. Noticeably, Jacob’s arms remained still at his side as his mother hugged him. 

On Tuesday, through my public Facebook page, I expressed my disappointment and sadness for what I had witnessed in Jacob’s press conference. I don’t judge his mother to be a bad person, yet I do feel bad that she could not contain herself for the sake of her son; and instead made what should be a very special moment for Jacob, into a scene he likely wished he could forget.

 

However, as the days passed from Jacob’s announcement, I found a new focal point of disappointment aside from his mother’s reaction.  However, before, I get into that, let me first explain what I believe is likely the reason for Jacob’s mother’s response.

Now, I caveat this by saying, I do not personally know Jacob Copeland’s family. Instead, I base my opinion on being a lifelong college football fan, who also happened to grow up in the shadow of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida; with memories of being around some of the nation’s best college athletes. In fact, I can vividly remember playing video games at the old UF Ratskeller with former Gator greats such as NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.

 

 Likely there is no significant mystery or conspiracy as to why Jacob Copeland’s mother was upset with his college selection. For good reason, these major colleges recruit parents just as much as they recruit athletes in hopes of wooing a final commitment.

 

When it comes to the University of Alabama, Jacob Copeland had been recruited by their staff for well over a year and likely they had established a good relationship with the family.

 

Meanwhile, when it comes to the University of Florida, their head coach and staff hadn’t come to fruition until November 26th of last year, as Dan Mullen was named as the CEO of the school’s football program after the previous coach had been fired weeks earlier.

 

Essentially, when it came to Florida’s staff they were well behind the eight ball with little time to try and sell young men on why they should come play for them. This is something that it is evident in the fact that Copeland took his official visit to Florida only a week before National Signing Day.

 

Additionally, the University of Florida hasn’t had a meaningful offense in over nine years. As a Gator I can attest that Florida has been marred by painfully offensive play for almost a decade now. Currently, there is promise with the hire of Dan Mullen as Florida’s new coach, however, the offense's success largely rests in hands of an 18-year-old true freshmen quarterback.

 

Meanwhile, the University of Alabama has racked up five National Championships in the last nine years and has a stable of young quarterbacks, including one particular freshman who showed himself off as being the savior that brought home Bama’s 17th National Title in a come from behind win against the University of Georgia.

 

Alabama also has the benefit of being led by Nick Saban, almost inarguably the best college football coach in modern history, if not eventually all-time.

 

All in all, this all adds up to the fact that Alabama has a very stable staff in place, and likely had a good, long-lasting relationship with Jacob Copeland’s family and especially his mother. Moreover, as a wide receiver, Alabama’s stability on offense could prove to be the difference in a young man someday going on to play in the NFL.

 

For all these reasons, even as a Florida fan, I can appreciate why anyone, especially his mother would be inclined to want to see her son play his college career at the University of Alabama. However, ultimately the staff at the University of Florida did a good job convincing Jacob that he could come to the Gators and be something special; something that was affirmed in his comments after making his selection.

 

All of these reasons make logical sense as being the basis for Jacob’s mother’s behavior this past Tuesday. Now, when it comes to my current ire, it is with some people in the public, and it is for starkly different reasons than just mere football.

Not long after Jacob’s announcement went viral, sports message boards and social media lit up with reasons for why his mother reacted the way she did. A wealth of individuals claiming to have “ reliably” heard from “a friend of a friend” emerged that said Jacob’s mother was upset because the young man was a part of a gang and she wanted him to leave the state of Florida in hopes of saving him from the threat of gang life. Many quotes by pundits who are known only  by cute usernames said his mother wanted him to go “anywhere but to Florida.”

 

 

Immediately upon hearing these Internet rumors, I saw a couple of problems.

The first issue I recognized was that the whole “get away from the gang life of home” had a slight problem. Jacob Copeland is from Pensacola, Florida. A waterfront Florida city of 50,000, nestled snuggly up in the Florida Panhandle. Pensacola lies approximately four hours drive-time from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and at clear across the entire Northern half of Florida is a good five hours away from Gainesville and the Swamp.

 

Essentially, both schools, Alabama and Florida, are by no means reasonably close to Jacob Copeland‘s hometown of Pensacola; and yet if you have to choose one, Gainesville is still an hour further away.

 

Another bit of information that leads me to believe the entire “gang banging” rumor lacks substance comes from the fact that it seemingly originates through individuals who have little understanding of the average life of a major division one college athlete.

 

Assuredly, there are plenty of stories of student-athletes finding themselves in trouble, however, the average scholarship athlete’s days offer little time for much else but classes, practices, and team events. Whether it is four hours or five hours, this is a significant amount of travel time one would have to engage in just to go home to enjoy the company of criminal cohorts and a life of ill-gotten means.

 

The simple geography caused me to question the reliability of Jacob Copeland "the gangster" as being an excuse for his mother’s response, however, in an effort to be thorough I decided to comb through the Internet to see if I could find any information to support these claims. 

 

Ultimately, I couldn’t find a single source of reputable information that offered even a shred of evidence that suggested Jacob Copeland was a gang member, much less as this being rational for his mother’s disappointment.

 

Not a single journalists, sports writer, or athletic coach could be found giving even an ambiguous mention of Jacob having a connection to gangs. Instead, all I found were comments on message boards, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

 

In the end, I cannot conclusively say whether or not Jacob Copeland is a member of the street gang or not. However, I can say if Jacob is in a gang, it is definitely something kept reasonably well a secret.

 

Armed with this information my bubbling frustration with this entire situation boiled over into angst.

 

In an effort for some to explain Jacob Copeland’s mother's behavior, an ugly side of American culture reared its ugly head.

 

When we try to understand life events, far too often, society finds itself willing to condemn young men to be “gangbangers” and “thugs.” Which, let’s all be up front with ourselves right now, these “thugs” are always young men of color.

 

For many people, Jacob’s mother walking away in the middle of his live press conference wasn’t the actions of a mother not thinking of her child and the importance of the moment. Instead, they became the actions of a grief-stricken mother trying to help her son escape the grips of gang life. This of course was based on a complete rejection of the actual undeniable episodic evidence that could be easily seen. Instead, this belief came from hasty unfounded generalizations and an Ad Hominem fallacy against a young man.

 

The most heartbreaking and frustrating thing about all of this for me is that every bit of this has been at the expense of a seemingly innocent young man.

 

A young man who has graduated high school with the academic integrity that is allowing him to be eligible to attend a major state university.

 

A young man who has likely played sports since he was a small child, and work hard to hone the athletic skills necessary to attend school on a scholarship to play at a major division one school.

 

A young man who had the courage to make a decision that he felt was in his best interest and where he felt like his faith and heart told him he was supposed to be. Even if it was against the wishes of his own mother.

 

All of these statements can be verified by truth and seen by clearly observable evidence. Again, I don’t truly know whether Jacob is a gang member not. However, that reality is definitely very far from that being obviously clear.

 

Sadly, Jacob's story is not all that uncommon and far too often are we willing to defame other people simply to try and make sense of the world around us.

 

At the end of the day, my intentions for writing this hasn't been to pass judgment or condemn Jacob Copeland’s mother. I wish that she had handled the situation with his announcement better. However, in the end, that is for Jacob’s sake; so honestly now I truly hope that he and his mother have a relationship that is filled with love and support.

 

Additionally, my intentions are not to bash or condemn anyone who may have thought that Jacob Copeland’s “gang life” could explain his mother’s behavior.

 

Instead, my intentions are to try to get some people to consider for a moment how they view the world around them. The world doesn’t always have to be segmented into superheroes and villains. Sometimes good people make bad choices and sometimes bad people change. When it comes to people like Jacob Copeland, we shouldn’t be so willing to add facts that make them out to be bad. Instead, why not appreciate the good that is evident in others, and give our support for good that exists within them.

Lastly, I by no means am an expert; however, I’ll tell you a secret that I’ve come to discover. After fifteen years in law enforcement, I have found that the young men who are really in street gangs, they are actually are not “thugs.” They are young people.... human beings... who often have little to no support. They are simply young people who are making bad decisions. However, as easily as they make bad choices, I equally believe they are capable of making good decisions as well. Sometimes all it takes is support so they can believe that for themselves. Believing in someone else doesn't take a lot of work, and in the end, it's a simple way we each can choose to help make a better world.

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