Cardale Jones makes a show for education

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When Cardale Jones set up a press conference to announce “a life-changing decision,” the assumption was he would be leaving college after his sophomore season to collect his millions from the pro football draft.

Instead, he ran a LeBron James reverse, a press conference to announce he was staying in Ohio, not leaving.

“My decision was very simple,” Jones said.  “I’m gonna return next year for school.”

To which Mike Florio of NBC Sports responded:  “If it was simple, why the press conference?  Why the hubbub?” 

The way Florio and other football reporters saw it, if James, redshirt sophomore quarterback, is staying at Ohio State, he should tell his coach, Urban Meyer, and let the university take care of the publicity.

But that’s just it, there wouldn’t be much publicity if he had done it that way.

“It wasn’t my idea holding a press conference and having all eyes on me and me being the center of attention,” Jones said on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning.  “I’m not that type of guy, period.”

He wanted to set an example for local kids and younger family members.  He wanted to deliver the message that he valued education above playing football or acquiring immediate wealth.  His “handlers” – including his high school coach, Ted Ginn Sr., talked him into a press conference. They figured that would give the message the most impact.

And they were right.

Frankly, I can’t understand media folk (and Florio is one of our best) blasting celebrated athletes for calling press conferences and granting access.  We should be grateful they talk at all to the media, because their quotes are our lifeblood. 

At the same time, they (I mean you, Marshawn Lynch) should think about how much they can add to future earnings by using the media to raise their fame and popularity.

Jones was hardly the first college football star to hold a press conference to announce his decision to stay.  Brett Hundley, Dak Prescott, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning are among those who took the same approach.

One difference:  The others chose as a forum their university, while Jones appeared at his Cleveland high school named for Ginn, whose son plays in the NFL.   Ginn said the high school was chosen for the press conference “to be the example for our community and the kids that’s around here.”

But let’s put aside the quibbles over how and where the message was delivered.  We should all be happy Jones made his stand for education.  There’s immense irony here.  During his freshman year he drew national attention for tweeting that he didn’t see the point of going to class “if we came here to play football. . . . Classes are pointless.”

Even then, he knew he was headed for the NFL.  He’s 6-5, 250 pounds, a fast runner who can throw the football 85 yards.

His resume is limited to three starts for the Buckeyes, but he has three wins and a national championship.  The pros said he would be the third QB drafted, behind the last two Heisman Trophy winners, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.

Meyer said he “was a little shocked” when Jones informed him of his decision, but the coach has noted a complete turnaround in attitude toward school.

Mike Wilbon of ESPN’s PTI, said that “as a black man” he applauded the young African American “taking a stand for education. . . . It can have a ripple effect.”

While it’s silly for media to criticize Jones for speaking to them, it IS fair to ask if he made the best decision for his own good.  It’s true he could take the money now and go to school later in life.  It’s also true he could suffer a career-ending injury, though there are insurance policies that can provide financial protection.

It’s far from certain Jones will be the Buckeyes’ starter next fall.  He entered this season as a third-stringer, behind two other players who also excel at throwing, running and winning games:  Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.

“Hopefully I am the starter,” Jones said.  “If I’m not, I have to wait for the opportunity to present itself.”

As for what the talking heads, writers and tweeters say, Jones told ESPN, “It’s my life, and I have to live it, not them.”

Florio scoffed at the notion that he was making a “life-changing decision.”  But for Jones it was a remarkable change of direction from where his compass was pointed two years ago.

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