NFL quarterback Vince Young has been in the news this week as a result of a distress call made to Nashville police by his head coach. Young's family became concerned for the young man who is the team leader for the Tennessee Titans after a bad Sunday and Monday both on and off the field. His coach, Jeff Fisher called the police to attempt to locate Young who reportedly had been upset over mounting criticism about his performance. Compounding Young's problems, he suffered an injury to his knee that will keep him off the field for up to a month. It's not what the team, fans or Young himself had hoped for. Fears of him hurting himself were uppermost in his family's mind and the team acted out of an abundance of caution after hearing his family's concerns. That turned into a national story and although the fears were unfounded, the story reached the public as it usually does, through sensational headlines about Young being a head case, a Momma's boy and not tough enough for the NFL.
In my opinion, Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle wrote the best story about the distinct difference between the collegian named Vince Young and the man who currently works for the Tennessee Titans. Justice recounts times at the University of Texas when things weren't going so well for Young and he muscled up, buckled down and worked through it all. He had a coach, Mack Brown that could spend enough time to assure him he was still the stud he thought he was. He was a campus icon for his toughness and leadership skills. As Justice points out, the NFL doesn't work that way. You lose games every year, unless you are the 1972 Miami Dolphins. If your coping mechanisms include a mentor or big brother figure to assuage concerns and burying all sadness or fear by strutting your stuff in victory, what happens when you can't access them?
We should be talking about coping skills here not denial of real life problems that everyone experiences whether rich or poor. That's where Justice's article hits a nerve for me. There can be no disagreement on that point no matter what you think he should do about it or whether or not you think he shouldn't feel bad at all. Ask yourselves about the last time you were distressed about something that happened to you and after sharing it with a friend, that person wondered aloud how you could feel the way you did. Didn't it seem a bit jarring to you that your pal couldn't understand? Of course it did. The word "shouldn't" has no place in a discussion about a person's emotional life. The crassest example of that approach to mental travail is the famous press conference statement by Terrell Owens' former publicist who denied TO had tried to kill himself. Remember that? "Terrell has 25 million reasons why he should be alive". OK then.
Some of us who aren't millionaires think that the release from worrying about money allows all other problems in life to disappear or recede in importance. It has been reported that the Tennessee quarterback saw a team psychologist who pronounced Young depressed. How can you be depressed when you can buy your way out of the problem? Easy. There's only so long you can spend money on yourself or your loved ones and get the rush of acquisition or see the happy faces in front of you. Because when that is over the problem is still there.
Young's mother knows how the game is played. She knew enough not to mess with her son's image and career prior to him signing his big money contract. The fact she is now out there in public, speaking frankly about her troubled son and asking for patience for him to work things out means this is not a figment of Young's imagination. What I would submit is that he has been unable to wrap his arms around his problems and see a way out. How one finds ways to cope varies from person to person. But it's clear he needs a mentor to replace his college coach, one he can believe in and trust. I nominate Donovan McNabb, a man who has spoken out about unique pressures on black quarterbacks. With the season he looks like he'll have he can prove to Young that he can rise again. Let's hope so.