It doesn’t seem as though Teez Tabor and C’yontai Lewis really like each other. How else are we to interpret the internecine scuffle from last week, and the sniping back and forth on Twitter last weekend?
Tabor was either too proud or too mad to let a weekend spent giving away the shoes off his feet — a nice gesture, yes, though Will Grier did it first, and more literally — be the most recent thing people would remember about him, and so he lashed out at Lewis, hinting that Lewis is more enemy than friend and alluding to his role in getting cornerback J.C. Jackson excommunicated from Florida.
Lewis responded with a tweet that included the word “CLASS” in all caps and the phrase “Get over it bro.”
All but Tabor’s “enemies” message of those tweets have since been deleted, as was Tabor’s Twitter account as of Monday afternoon — though Jim McElwain, made to answer questions about subtweets, claimed no knowledge of that.
Yet @_31Flavorz is back online as of now. It’s been silent publicly since Sunday, sure, but it’s not deleted or deactivated, as it seemingly was on Monday, and Tabor remains poised to make news with a few taps of an iPhone keyboard.
The problem, now, is that many, many Florida fans would probably rather he didn’t.
I’m not including myself in that category — I believe deeply in Tabor’s right to express himself and remain compelled by his continual management of his public persona — but I would bet real Chinese renminbi that most Gators fans are tired of Tabor’s “antics” or “foolishness” or something similar, and hoping, perhaps loudly, that Tabor can return to practice and serve out his suspension through Florida’s first game without further incident.
And that’s fine, I guess, because Tabor is quite possibly Florida’s most talented player, and certainly one of the Gators’ finest ones. Fans will always want players of Tabor’s caliber to make headlines with their play, whether or not they want any of the ancillary headlines for trash-talking Tennessee or subtweeting teammates.
But some of the fans who enjoyed Tabor razzing Vols and Tennessee fans as April dawned are now sick of his “act” as August is ending — and Tabor has set himself up for eight months of hand-wringing about his Twitter candor, as if the Bennett brothers and Josh Norman aren’t just this month’s proof that celestial talent affords some human beings the leeway to say outrageous things and still take home outstanding paychecks.
Tabor probably ought to watch his words a bit more carefully if he wants to avoid scrutiny or criticism, but what indication do we have that he does? To my eye, his cycle of controversy and contrition suggests that he cares about how he is seen; that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care equally about simply being seen.
Tabor and Lewis both probably ought to figure out how to coexist without simmering beef stew burning them both, but, well, it would be a surprise to me if all 80ish college-aged men on an FBS roster liked each other, especially given that there weren’t 80ish college-aged men that I could have called even friendly acquaintances at Tabor’s age.
Florida fans probably ought to stop wringing their hands about every single minute detail about the football team they care so deeply about, too. I can’t imagine the strength of fan passion waning in the near future, though, not for a sport as tribal and primal and visceral as college football.
And that’s why we got L’Affair Adarius, mostly. Four-star Florida commit Adarius Lemons “decommitted” from Florida on Monday night, then walked it back, then spoke to McElwain and confirmed that he remains in Florida’s class — all seemingly because he thought he had to do at least the first two parts of that.
The unconfirmed scuttlebutt drifting like flotsam on message boards is that Lemons found himself in some kind of trouble at school — his first tweet mentioning “worry(ing) about his priorities first” and his second talking about “keeping his nose clean” are clues, in this regard — and panicked, thinking he was going to be cut loose from Florida’s recruiting class. When cooler heads prevailed on Tuesday and confirmed that wasn’t going to be a consequence of whatever he did, Lemons ended up right where he was 24 hours prior — at least in regards to Florida.
But I think it’s important to note, sad though it is, that Lemons getting in some kind of trouble at school would have remained either totally private or very quiet without Lemons attempting to preemptively decommit. And while I don’t know why he chose to do that, I suspect that he was trying to stay ahead of being robbed of his own agency by a disappointed coach who had to pull an offer — basically, I think he sprinted ahead of what seemed like the reaper’s scythe, only to realize no one was behind him.
And moreover, Lemons choosing to do this publicly, rather than in some sort of confession to Florida’s coaches — who would, I’d guess, have reassured Lemons that he was in no danger of losing his scholarship — shows that the new default in handling recruiting for the recruits themselves is dashing off a tweet, and that it comes with all sorts of consequences.
Lemons has just over 3,000 followers; his original decommitment tweet got nearly 400 combined retweets and favorites, and dozens of replies, including from fans of — take a breath — Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland (“Maryland has hot women”), Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, and, most hilariously, a Miami fan who tweeted the GIF of Jonotthan Harrison and Quinton Dunbar blocking each other from three years ago as if it matters at all to Lemons.
Some of those responses were encouraging, if proselytizing in ways the NCAA still bans. Others — “NEXT!!!!!”’; “BYE!!”; “I would like to de-commit from following you”; “fuck em we loaded at tailback anyway” — were the sort of drivel that no teenager has ever needed to hear, nor should.
All of those responses didn’t have to happen, because Lemons didn’t have to air his business out — but he did, and so the sour grapes of wrath whined to and about him, fateful lightning-quick missives slashed out by terrible, swift, dull swords.
This is toxic, I am sure. It is unhealthy for fans to care this much, unhealthy for young men (and women) who are really good at a sport to be dipped into this cesspool of fans who attended or have fondness for the same school that will educate — but not employ, just educate — these athletes for three or four or more years in exchange for their physical labor. Florida can no more prevent an idiot Gators fan from tweeting Lemons “BYE!!” than I can stop rain from falling, of course, and no prominent school wants to alienate a swath of its fan base by smacking down even the few most obvious fools who pollute this ecosystem.
I don’t have that same obligation — or, more accurately, I just don’t mind alienating those who would respond to a 17-year-old making a difficult decision in public with drivel, because I know damn well that I’m never going to agree with their reasoning for doing so.
So I’m saying this now, to all within (and without) Gator Nation: Cut this shit out. Let Adarius Lemons decommit in peace. Let Teez Tabor vent (and talk trash, and donate shoes on Periscope) without venting your spleen. Let people exist publicly in the world without publicly passing judgment on them; seek to relate and understand, not react with untoward words.
Be a fan, but not fanatical.
If you think that will dilute your passion, I understand your concern. But — if you are the “NEXT!!!!!”-level knee-jerker — you must now and forever understand that your passion is self-defeating, and that there will always be a better way.
Hate may be a flip side of love, but love is so much better than hate.