BATON ROUGE, La. — Leonard Fournette made a pretty unnecessary explanation Friday afternoon during the press conference in which he announced that he had played his last down at LSU.
“I’m not a quitter,” Fournette said. “I tried to play through it the best I could.”
Unfortunately, that unnecessary explanation became necessary because Fournette knew what was coming next.
Though for the most part fans thanked Fournette for the three years of joy he gave them as a Tiger, others were predictably incensed that he would have the nerve to sit out the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
People called Fournette selfish. Me-first. One commenter on this site’s Facebook page called Fournette a wimp. Only he used a far more vulgar term than “wimp,” so that comment was deleted. And had he used the term to Fournette’s face, there is a chance several of his teeth would have been deleted — but that’s another story.
When Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey joined Fournette on Monday by declaring that he will sit out the Sun Bowl, the hot takes turned up another notch.
Leonard Fournette? No thanks. Christian McCaffrey? No thanks. I hate this generation of kids, man. Gimme the guys that want to compete.
— Todd Eckman (@RealToddEckman) December 19, 2016
All of these arguments are silly, and more importantly, false. If it wasn’t for Fournette’s desire to compete for LSU, the lingering ankle injury that bedeviled his whole season probably would have healed already.
“But that’s just not me,” Fournette said. “I’m not built like that. I’m not built to watch someone I love to go to war with, just watch them go fight.”
Fournette first sprained his ankle in preseason training camp. Being a team guy, he rushed back too soon because the season opener at Wisconsin was too important to him. Near the end of the game, he tweaked the injury.
Fournette missed the next game, and looked healthy upon his return against Mississippi State. But once again he proved that he came back too soon when the ankle was rolled yet again near the end of the Auburn game.
This time he sat out two games, and danged if he didn’t look 100 percent when he gashed Ole Miss for 284 yards on just 16 carries. But two games later at Arkansas, the issue repeated itself yet again. And that set the stage for Fournette to do the most irresponsible thing he has ever done on a football field, all for the sake of the LSU Tigers.
Fournette was supposed to sit out the Florida game. He should have sat out the Florida game. He did not dress out for warm-ups. But a pregame fracas broke out between the Tigers and Gators, getting Fournette’s competitive juices flowing. Against the better judgement of anyone involved, he played.
It did not work out. He couldn’t make the cuts that he typically makes look routine. He finished with 12 carries for 40 yards and was only on the field for one play in the second half. It was painful and awkward to watch.
So the amount of gall it takes for anyone who watched Fournette in that Florida game to turn around and say he’s a me-first player is mind-blowing. To fit in that category either makes you blind, or a fool.
If this was a College Football Playoff game, Fournette would be playing. Same goes for the Sugar Bowl — no chance he passes up an encore performance in his hometown of New Orleans. But it’s not.
With or without Fournette, the Citrus Bowl will be a fun game. But it is not a particularly meaningful game. A win isn’t catapulting LSU into the top 10. A bowl game like this is a reward for a good season. But for someone with Fournette’s future earning potential, that reward is more like a white elephant gift. A white elephant that can take millions from his bank account.
There is one more distinction that separates Fournette from McCaffrey, as if footage of Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith tearing two knee ligaments in last year’s Fiesta Bowl isn’t a compelling enough argument for their decisions. (Smith, a surefire top-15 pick and potential top-5 pick, fell to the second round and won’t play until next year).
McCaffrey is sitting out to prevent a possible injury before the NFL Scouting Combine and Draft. Fournette is sitting out because he’s still recovering from an injury and wants to be 100 percent going into those events.
Is he looking out for himself? Yes, of course he is. But he has earned that right. Because no one can question that Fournette was playing for the 10 guys around him every time he put on a Tiger uniform for the last three years.