I’m a competitive guy. I can understand the mentality of a highly driven, focused athlete like Jamaal Franklin who obviously desires to be a dominant force on the court. Franklin has had an exceptional season and was named Mountain West Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year. Nobody can deny the guy has serious skills, coupled with enviable athletic talent, making him a potentially valuable part of San Diego State men’s basketball program.
Yeah, I said “potentially” valuable. I’m still figuring out if SDSU basketball fans should rally behind Franklin and give him our full support. His on and off-court decision-making has been questionable and it’s fair to suspend adulation until Franklin has made it clear what type of student athlete he intends to be.
Take, for example, the apparent gesture made toward a referee in the Aztecs’ recent loss to New Mexico. Unless Franklin was trying to stretch out his middle finger to improve his shooting, it looked like he flipped off the ref. Franklin denied this after the game. Did he have reasons to be frustrated? Sure. Is it really that big of a deal if a collegiate athlete not-so-subtly tells a ref he can go you-know-what himself? Yeah, unfortunately, it is.
What if, as Franklin has recently asserted, he was actually flipping off an obnoxious fan in the stands? Does this make the scenario any better? Either way, an athlete from SDSU was making offensive gestures out of frustration on national television.
Sportsmanship matters. If our student athletes do not have the emotional maturity and integrity to be gracious in defeat, they do not deserve to play. Being an athlete at SDSU should be about more than athletic performance and game-time statistics.
We do not have a professional basketball team. If Franklin wants to go be in the NBA, and he probably will end up there, he can be as unsportsmanlike as he wants. Professional sports teams have one goal and one goal only: winning. Collegiate athletic programs have to be about more than just that. Collegiate athletics are about school spirit. College sports bring communities together. Universities are supposed to be designed to give young people enriching experiences that guide and shape them into more educated, well-rounded adults. Athletic programs are not an exception to this ideal. Coaches and professors have similar responsibilities. We should all hope SDSU men’s basketball head coach Steve Fisher is reaching out to Franklin, mentoring him in more than just how to be an effective shooting guard.
SDSU doesn’t want to be the team with talented players who are gifted but disrespectful. Winning games is important, but it shouldn’t be the most important thing for any of our teams. In order for our basketball team to reach its fullest potential, the cultivation of character in our athletes has to be the top priority.
Sports fans have always celebrated the competitive spirit, and praised athletes who have fought hard and lost with grace. I’m certainly not alone in my idealistic belief that our team would be more admirable if our star player hadn’t lost his composure in a losing situation.
This isn’t the first time Franklin has demonstrated questionable character on the court. Remember when Franklin hit University of Connecticut’s Kemba Walker with his shoulder? I know, Walker totally flopped, but if Franklin hadn’t slammed into him with his shoulder, there would have been nothing to flop to. It was an early demonstration of Franklin’s misguided competitive nature. Franklin really wants to win. Actually, he wants to do more than simply win. He wants to dominate and crush his opponents, and I love that about him. I even appreciate the showboating, high-flying dunks in a way that some basketball fans do not. The problem is, sometimes this competitive spirit has to be reigned in (coaches, are you listening?) and balanced out with some self-control and integrity.
College basketball players are thrust into the national spotlight every March. It’s called March Madness for a reason, dear readers. These players are subject to an unfair level of scrutiny, but that’s just the way it is. Every year that we have an elite basketball program, SDSU has an opportunity to show the nation what kind of school we are. When they make it to the tournament, basketball players suddenly transcend the role of student athlete and become ambassadors for their communities on the national stage. Against New Mexico, Franklin missed the opportunity to show off a little composure in a stressful situation and it was a poor reflection of our student body.
Our community should embrace athletes such as Franklin and encourage them to showcase more than their skills as basketball players. We should care about these players, and they should matter to all students, faculty and alumni enough for us to want them to be more than just good athletes.
—Kenneth Leonard is an English junior.