The money, the rivalries, the realignment and the constant chatter within college sports can mask the youth of the participants at the center of it all.
The young men at this level are often treated like professional athletes due to national exposure and their roles as ambassadors for prestigious, multimillion-dollar programs.
But they’re still 18- to 23-year-old individuals (usually) who face the same life obstacles as other students. Their non-athlete academic peers, however, don’t endure the same scrutiny.
They’re constantly analyzed and publicly criticized when they make mistakes. And I, along with other sportswriters, play a role in that.
Young athletes, however, also deserve praise when it’s warranted. Still, the latter is sparse because their bad calls and poor decisions tend to garner more attention.
So it’s easy for the courageous plight of an athlete like Stanford’s Andy Brown to be overlooked.
On Wednesday, Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins announced that the forward’s career had come to an end after he’d suffered his fourth anterior cruciate ligament tear during a team workout.
The most recent injury involved his right knee. He’d previously torn the ACL in his left knee three times.
Four. ACL. Tears.
Think about that.
It was obviously a sad day for the program and Brown, who averaged 6.2 PPG last in his first full year with the squad in 2012-13.
From ESPN.com via the Associated Press:
"Everyone associated with our program is saddened by Andy's latest injury," Dawkins said. "Nobody has worked harder to get back into playing shape, having already experienced three tears and waiting two full years before putting on a uniform. What makes this even more disappointing is Andy had already passed the initial test of getting back on the court.
"He was a highly productive player for our team last year and we were fully counting on him to be a key contributor again this season. More importantly, his presence and leadership will be extremely difficult to replace. Andy is a fighter, he will bounce back and has the full support of the Stanford basketball family."
Brown was coming off the first full season of his career, averaging 6.2 points and 2.8 rebounds. He shot a team-best 48.5 percent from the floor.
Brown sat out his freshman year as a medical redshirt after tearing the ACL in his left knee on the first day of practice. He also tore the same ACL in January 2009 at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana.
In August 2010, Brown tore his left ACL again during a team workout and missed the entire season. He finally made his Stanford debut during the 2011-12 season, playing limited minutes during the Cardinal's run to the NIT tournament title.
Sports are globally relevant because we can all relate to their most significant principles.
Some of us may not know what it’s like to tear an ACL, but we all understand setbacks and that crucial moment when life demands an answer to this question: Will you get up again?
Brown got up. And then he was knocked down again. But he didn’t stay down. The cycle repeated itself four times. So, he will get up again because that’s all he knows.
Throughout this immense challenge, the young man from Yorba Linda, Calif., continued to chase his dreams.
If you can’t appreciate that level of willpower and determination, then you can’t fully appreciate sports and competition. Brown embodies everything that sports -- on any level -- should be about.
Multiple times, he had every reason to quit.
And who would have faulted him if he’d decided to take his career into a different direction after the first ACL tear?
I’m sure some folks called him crazy when he kept going after the second one. Perhaps people begged him to quit after the third injury.
Brown, however, tried again.
This isn’t the story of a young man who ultimately decided to quit. That’s an unfair characterization of his journey.
This is a tale about a young athlete who decided to fight when quitting seemed like the better choice. It was certainly the easier one.
In his remarks, Brown didn’t express any frustration. He didn’t blame anyone or anything. He didn’t focus on the obvious pain he’s encountered since this saga began in 2009.
None of that.
Brown received his undergraduate degree in communication last month. He is now working toward a master's degree in communication and will remain a part of the team next season, which would have been his last.
"I just want to thank all of my teammates and coaches during the past four years who have always been there to support and encourage me," Brown said. "I never would have been able to battle back through these injuries without their help. Even though this is a difficult way to end my career, I feel grateful to have been able to wear a Stanford uniform and contribute to such a great program and university. I will do everything I can to help the team from the sideline this year and am looking forward to all that we will accomplish."
I hope Brown realizes he has already won.