Commentary

Crossing patterns

Two college football sidelinings, one self-inflicted, one not

Updated: October 29, 2012, 4:30 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

One person came to mind as I watched South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore writhing in pain Saturday after suffering one of the most gruesome knee injuries in recent memory.

It wasn't Joe Theismann, whose infamous leg injury as a Redskins quarterback still makes some people nauseous.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lattimore
AP Photo/Richard ShiroMarcus Lattimore suffered his second knee injury in two years.

I was thinking about former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

Specifically, the image that came to mind was Mathieu being led away in handcuffs by police after a drug arrest Thursday.

A year ago, Matthieu was considered college football's biggest star.

Today, he's college football's biggest disappointment.

So what exactly does that have to do with Lattimore?

It's hard not to look at Matthieu -- who appears to have destroyed his college football career -- and compare his situation to Lattimore's.

Lattimore is one of the most widely respected players in college football, and now his career is in jeopardy through no fault of his own.

The same obviously can't be said for Matthieu.

The good news is that Lattimore's injury isn't as bad as initially feared. If you've seen the replays or watched his injury live, it looked like Lattimore had broken his leg and caused irreparable damage to his knee. It was difficult not to think his playing days were over.

That possibility still exists, but school officials at least offered a glimmer of hope with the report they released on Lattimore's injury Sunday.

Lattimore didn't fracture anything, but he hyperextended his right knee and damaged several ligaments. Coach Steve Spurrier said he is optimistic that Lattimore can play football again.

But the rehab will be extensive, and Spurrier hinted it could take more than one offseason. Lattimore hasn't used a redshirt, so it's feasible he could return to play in 2014.

This is Lattimore's second major medical setback. He tore ligaments in his left knee last year and missed the second half of the Gamecocks' season.

[+] EnlargeTyrann Mathieu
AP PhotoIt is unlikely Tyrann Mathieu will play at LSU again.

If Lattimore ever plays another down, it will be an amazing comeback.

Meanwhile, it wouldn't surprise me if someone took another chance on Matthieu, either in college football or professionally.

That just doesn't seem fair. And yet we know talent gets guys second and third chances.

Matthieu has a problem. He spent time in drug rehabilitation in Houston after he was dismissed from LSU for reportedly failing multiple drug tests.

But considering Matthieu's latest drug arrest, it's fair to question whether he only went to rehab to remake his image, rather than address the serious issue of addiction that millions struggle with every day.

What Mathieu doesn't seem to get -- and likely what Lattimore understands all too well -- is that opportunities like the ones he's been blessed with are fragile.

There are countless examples of athletes, both at the professional level and in college, who take their talent and opportunities for granted.

If Lattimore's football career is indeed over, he can at least be comforted by the fact that he didn't throw his opportunity away. He approached the game with respect and never cheated himself. It's a testament to Lattimore's character that as medical personnel tended to his injuries on the field, Tennessee players and coaches joined South Carolina's team on the field in a touching moment of unified support.

If I were Matthieu or any athlete prone to self-destructive behavior, I'd look at what Lattimore is going through and feel ashamed.

One play can take away a lifelong dream.

A bad decision can, too.

Jemele Hill | email

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