May 12, 2006

Chucky Mullins Courage Award succumbs to individualism

Color me old-fashioned, but when I read between the lines that some recipients of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award at the University of Mississippi were unsure about accepting the #38 jersey, I simply shook my head - yet another story of youth not appreciating the heritage before them.

If you do not know the Chucky Mullins story, click here and here …Mullins was paralyzed in a 1989 game between his Ole Miss Rebels and the Vanderbilt Commodores, but had the strength to return to campus for studies and inspire the football team until his death.

Usually in these instances, teams will retire a number, forever to be linked to the hero known by that numeral. The uniqueness in the Mullins tradition is that someone different each year earns the privilege to wear #38 and make use of the symbolic power of an inspiring teammate even when wheelchair bound.

The SI story linked first here states that…

“Some players have expressed concerns about the award to head coach Ed Orgeron. It’s about keeping their own identity in a sports where 22 players are on the field at the same time.”
Note, the motivation to move the number to retirement hasn’t come from a trustee who has rethought the inspiration behind the award - it has come from young men seventeen years removed from the tragedy and who are more concerned about Reggie Bush-like attachment to their jersey number as if it were the source of their immense talent.

Easy there oh Samsons of the gridiron - there are insidious forces at work. By declining to wear #38, you are really suggesting that the team and university are secondary to your desire to stand out as an individual. You are truly suggesting that the name on the back of your jersey is more important than the name on the front.

Granted, a retirement ceremony for the Mullins #38 will be special in and of itself, but it isn’t of itself. I hope Ole Miss isn't yielding to recruits that fear not wearing their traditional number who threaten not to attend the university.

“We want to preserve the legacy and integrity of the award and make a decision that will be best with those factors in mind,” Walker Jones, the associate athletics director for internal affairs, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal newspaper.

Before Ole Miss and Mr. Jones change this award, they should check with Brad Gaines - I do not think you want to be on his bad side on this issue.

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