Here’s an obvious observation: The internet is kind of a big deal. It’s changed the way we function as a society. It’s connected us in ways that were never before imaginable. It’s opened up our lives — and that of others — for the whole world to see, for better, and for worse.
This is especially true when it comes to collegiate recruiting. Used to be that, if you wanted to know how your favorite team was faring, you had to — gasp! — wait and read it in the newspaper. I remember looking forward to that special sports section in the Houston Chronicle where I could scan their list of top prospects (was it their top 55?) to see who was committed to the Longhorns. The only info you had on which to judge a commit was their height, weight, and hometown. At one point, I was convinced Adam Dunn was going to be the next great Texas quarterback, simply because he was 6’6″ (I know…I have a keen football mind).
Oh, how the times have changed. With a couple of clicks of the mouse, you can get an intensive breakdown of every prospect imaginable, complete with analysis, interviews, and highlight reels — some of which are from practices and skills camps. And just like recruiting itself, it keeps getting earlier and earlier. Log onto any message board, fan site, or media conglomerate, and you can read up on kids who are sophomores — sophomores! — in high school. A lot of them aren’t even old enough to drive (though some have more impressive facial hair than I do), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow them on Twitter, or that we can’t hang on every word they say and dissect the order in which they list their top five college choices — campuses on which they won’t set foot on officially until 2015.
This is not meant to be some sermon from atop my high horse, as I am as guilty as anybody when it comes to following this stuff. I love learning about prospects, I love tracking who might go where, and I love that, when those recruits do eventually end up in Austin, I already feel like I know them and how they might be able to contribute. And typically, my blind spot for the Horns obscures just how unimportant or ridiculous all of this is.
But things were jolted back into perspective — though maybe only for a minute — earlier this week when word surfaced that Darrion Johnson, a 5’11”, 170 lbs. defensive back from Brenham, had withdrawn from school. As a national-level prospect who sits near the top of Texas’ target board, this was big news, at least in the world of college football recruiting. But once the details started to come out — that Johnson had school attendance issues, that his mother was potentially facing financial penalties, that he had just become a father — that’s when I began to feel uncomfortable, like I was eavesdropping on a conversation or peeking through somebody’s window and seeing something I shouldn’t be. Scrolling through the multi-page message board threads talking about Johnson’s situation didn’t make me any less uneasy.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m fully aware that these kids are, on some level, public figures, and with that comes a certain amount of scrutiny. But they’re still just kids, and no matter how much we refuse to think of them as such, they’re more than just the height, weight, position, and recruiting ranking we use to identify them (as I’m guilty of doing in this article). It makes sense that, as a big-time football player, Johnson’s ability on the field would serve as fair game, worthy of being analyzed and debated in the public domain. But as a Texas Longhorns fan, do I really need to know about his school attendance record and newly born child? Is that any of my business? I understand that, to some degree, it all impacts his standing as a recruit, but still, aren’t we swerving out of our lane a little bit? Where do we draw the line between prospect and privacy? And on what side of that line do we currently reside?
Unlike the impact of the internet, the answers to these questions aren’t quite as obvious.
You can contact Brent Stoller at [email protected]