The St. Louis Rams top all-time draft bust needs no introduction. Lawrence Phillips is a footnote now, another example of what happens when you don't carefully consider the complete player, on the field and off, before drafting him. Then again, you know that. We laugh at JaMarcus Russell's "life coach" dumping him this week (because getting dumped by such a specious guru is a pretty telling incident in and of itself), but Phillips' story is just too tragic to muster even the slightest guffaw.
The circumstances around Phillips being drafted are the stuff of legend now. It was one part of a chain of events that dramatically changed the franchise. Rich Brooks, brought in to rebuild, scorned Bettis, who was a draft day trade when they selected Phillips. Surprisingly enough, Brooks plan to rebuild around Tony Banks and Lawrence Phillips got him fired after two seasons. Dick Vermeil was brought into replace him...you know how it goes from there.
I'm an existentialist, first and foremost, though probably more in the tradition of Camus. Life dealt Philips some pretty shitty circumstances, as it does a lot of people. But life and the entire universe is chaotic, arbitrary and ultimately meaningless, thus the importance of individual action in the face of that as accepted fact. Offered a way to transcend that, give his life a new meaning, Phillips was ultimately unable to do so. Some people can overcome their demons, some can live with them and some succumb. He's still in the first decade of
Phillips stands as a monument to why teams have to consider character before drafting player or signing one to massive free agent contract. But that should be fairly obvious. Phillips is really a sad reminder of the ugly side of the process of manufacturing a celebrity. Not to exculpate him from the horrible things he did. That would be foolish.
But there's a certain amount of exploitation that occurs when the disenfranchised are made into almost overnight stars for the entertainment, and profit, of others that people in all roles of the process need to be conscious of and having a continual dialog about (along with the twin issues of race and class) as it happens. Like reentering the Earth's atmosphere, the mind and body and soul go through a rapid, dramatic change in a process like that. With the proper adjustments, mentoring along the way, it can at least become easier for person to conquer those demons, to own the changes they're put through. People do it everyday, and despite some deeply rooted issues of inequality, few other places offer as much opportunity to do so as this country.
To the credit of the NFL, they've come far in dealing with those issues that surround turning boys into gods.
There's another philosophical connection here, one that I highly doubt Camus would agree with...and maybe it's just a random turn of the universe. Without the disruptive years of Brooks and Phillips, the Rams wouldn't have morphed into the Greatest Show on Turf and a brief legacy of success. Of course, the front office didn't learn its lesson, and the franchise slipped into decay again.
But the old guard is gone, long gone. And the new order at Rams Parks seems to be moving in the right direction, once again toward a winning tradition. Hopefully, the keepers of the franchise will choose not to repeat the mistakes of the past, opting instead to transcend the natural ebb of flow of an unjust universe. Our will power, at the least the part of it that buys tickets and merchandise and all the other ultimately needless crap that sustains it all through advertising, is also an actor in this. Don't forget that.
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