Column: Rashan Gary Doesn't Owe You a Damn Thing

Column: Rashan Gary Doesn't Owe You a Damn Thing

Football

Column: Rashan Gary Doesn't Owe You a Damn Thing

Michigan, by virtue of being the second-highest rated two-loss team in college football, was selected by the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and will play No. 10 Florida in a rematch that seems to happen just about every year now. But, the Wolverines will be without star defensive end Rashan Gary, Jim Harbaugh announced on Sunday night’s teleconference hosted by the bowl committee.

And that has drawn a host of criticisms from fans for various reasons.

Some of those criticisms are just disappointment, and that’s a completely valid reason to be sad that Gary isn’t playing in his potential final game. It’s always difficult when you find out in retrospect that a player has played in their last game, especially when you’re not expecting it. Others, however, are less valid.

I’m not going to post anything that anyone has said on social media from a fan perspective, but I’ve banned people on our Facebook page for the site for vulgar epithets directed towards Gary for his decision. I wish I could ban people from Twitter, but I have yet to be given such authority (I joke…). But to the people who are legitimately upset that he won’t be playing in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, I ask one simple thing: have you already forgotten about Jake Butt?

If you don’t remember, back in 2016, it seemed to be a new trend with players like LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey choosing to sit out of their bowl games as to not risk injury. Michigan tight end Jake Butt, who came back for a final season in Ann Arbor, despite being a likely first-round draft pick coming out of the 2015 season. Butt returned, much to fans’ delight, and he still projected to go as potentially high as the first round in the NFL Draft, but was more likely a second-round pick. Not only did Butt play the whole season, but he made an emphatic statement that he would not miss the bowl game, as the Wolverines were set to play in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

And he paid the price for it.

Near the end of the first half, Butt came down with a catch, but tore his ACL in the process. Michigan career over, and draft stock in free fall — all in one fell swoop. Butt ended up being selected with the first pick in the fifth-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, costing him millions compared to what he would have made if he had been able to show out in the NFL Scouting Combine and retain the first-round status many thought he had at one point. He had an insurance policy that made up some of the difference, but assuredly, not nearly the amount he would have made otherwise.

Since, Butt has tore his ACL for a third time, and has found himself on the sidelines.

So, what is the point for a player of Gary’s caliber, a potential top ten draft pick, to play in a New Year’s Six bowl that will not equate to a Michigan championship?

With the College Football Playoff era in full swing, if your team isn’t in the top four, the bowl game is just a consolation prize. Don’t get me wrong — the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl is still an elite game, but for a player of Gary’s caliber, why risk it? For the memories? For the fans? Is that really worth the risk of potentially losing tens of millions of dollars, especially if your dream is playing in the NFL?

For many Michigan fans, the Wolverines are the top situation — the place for players to aspire to play. And in college football, that certainly is true for many. But there’s a shelf life. Four years of potential on-field eligibility. However, for those players on the field, many have higher aspirations. To play in the professional ranks. To be the best of the best and play at the highest possible level. I can’t speak to Gary’s aspirations or desires, but if playing at the pro level is his utmost dream and Michigan was a catalyst to make that happen, then his mission has been accomplished. Good for him. Let him go and achieve his dreams. How would you feel if you were on the cusp of achieving your dreams and you had a chorus of people who were wishing you the best, but just so long as it served their interests?

One former player who’s something of an expert on the matter spoke out about this take, vitriolic or not, and why it’s short-sighted.

Grant Newsome was in his second year with the program and was emerging as Michigan football’s next star left tackle when it was all taken away in an instant. Playing left tackle in the Wolverines Week Five contest against a top ten Wisconsin team, Newsome took a helmet to his knee, nearly lost his leg — possibly his life, given the circulatory issues that followed — and definitely lost his football career. Newsome never played another down, never suited back up in maize and blue with intent to play in a football game. Now, he’s a player-coach, and he certainly could have a future in that regard, but his future could have been much different if it weren’t for one play — something that happened in the flash of an eye.

Newsome knows a little something about what can happen, and he gave a quick reminder: those players who suit up for your pleasure are people, too. And you know what? They don’t owe you anything.

But that’s not the only way that some “fans” are criticizing Gary’s decision to not play in his final potential game in which he’s eligible. The other thing that I’ve been seeing is criticism of his production on the field.

I get it — he was the former No. 1 consensus defensive end in his recruiting class. He was a can’t miss. When people hear that, they envision Jadeveon Clowney and hits like he had on, well, Michigan’s own Vincent Smith. You imagine freakish numbers and salivate at that potential.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum — Michigan asked Gary to play the anchor position on the strong side of the defensive line. Gary’s role was relegated more to commanding double — sometimes triple — teams, stopping the run and paving the way for a player who became a star on the opposite end of him: Chase Winovich. It was Winovich’s job to rush, while Gary’s was more of a contain element. He frequently was mentioned by Jim Harbaugh as being the best defensive player on the field, but because the stats didn’t pile up, many fans were disappointed. And that’s okay. If you had an expectation that you were going to see one thing and other happened, that’s a natural reaction. But, Gary did as the coaching staff asked and he executed at an extremely high level. The consummate teammate, he was willing to take a role out of the spotlight to let someone else — Winovich — get the glory. And the tandem worked wonders together. Both are likely first-round NFL Draft picks at this juncture, though Winovich could find himself to be a second day player, but no worse than that. Given where he was before he got the shot to play opposite Gary? It’s an amazing ascension.

The reason I bring all that up is not to say if you have this opinion you’re wrong. Like I said, it’s natural to be disappointed if you expected him in a different role. It’s more of the reaction of: he didn’t play how I expected, therefore he sucked. Or: he didn’t beat Ohio State and he didn’t register a sack, so good riddance. There’s weirdly a lot of that going on in social media. Assuredly, it’s a minority, but it’s vocal enough for me to write this and say: quit it. You’re whining, you’re acting entitled, and Rashan Gary owes you nothing.

Gary played every game this season with a shoulder injury, one he sustained in training camp. It cost him three games of his college career, but he never left. He could have done like Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and withdrew from the team early in the season, but he didn’t. (And with Bosa, again, that’s his life, his decision.) He stuck it out, stood by his teammates. And the moment he was healthy enough to go back out there on the field, he did. He was a pivotal reason why Michigan was dominant against Penn State on defense. But you wanted him to show out against Ohio State. Guess what? So did he. And whether he did or didn’t, there’s still one common denominator: Rashan Gary, who put his heart and soul into playing football at the University of Michigan, does not owe you one damn thing.

You have a right to feel a way you do. You have a right to say what you want to about Gary or any other Michigan player, coach, media member, or whatever.

But just because you have a right doesn’t make it right.

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