Sports writers are supposed to be unbiased in their coverage of sporting events, but in the scheme of following teams and players day after day, the lines between being a fan and reporter sometimes become skewed.
This week, I became a sports fan more than a writer when one of my favorites was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Rashean Mathis may not have been the best of all time, but his contributions to the team and the city go far beyond anything he did on a field.
Yes, it could be argued the Bethune Cookman product and hometown hero could be amongst the top 10 players to ever put on a teal jersey, but for me as a writer and a fan, the connection with Mathis through my job is what keeps him a favorite in my playbook.
Back in 1997, a skinny sophomore was playing defense and receiver for Englewood High School. One of my first football assignments was to cover the football jamboree, the one where Mathis and his Rams football team would be showcased. Mathis caught the winning touchdown for the upstart Rams, who boasted some lanky quarterback with a decent arm who was supposed to be the next Randall Cunningham.
I believe Mathis had the better career.
Coming home to play football and having a standout career is what every player dreams of, being “The Man” and having the accolades and honors bestowed upon him in such a manner. Mathis may have lost steps in his career and felt the wrath of injuries along the journey, but Jacksonville had the privilege of calling him its own.
While Tim Tebow is still considered the prodigal son of the city and other athletes like Bullet Bob Hayes, Harold Carmichael, Chipper Jones and Artis Gilmore have basked in a greater spotlight, Mathis should be honored with the same intensity as the others.
This week, the Jaguars announced Mathis, the team’s all-time leader in interceptions, would not be part of the rebuilding process of the team in 2013. Where the defensive back will land in the NFL is anyone’s guess. The speed is slower, the tackling ability not as sharp and the age of a man who has played in the NFL more than a decade is finally showing. But to a man, and as an admirer of his work, there are few on the roster who have as much heart as No. 27.
Hopefully the team will honor those commitments to the team and game by placing his name and number in the “Pride of the Jaguars” honor circle.
The Jaguars are a team in transition. Moves are made, decisions finalized and hearts are broken. While the move to release Mathis the player was expected and understood. The team must deal with losing a player who was a good fit in the locker room, a teacher for the younger generation and one of the few connections to the community.
Those intangibles will be hard to replace. Wins and loses cannot measure when you talk about how a player affects an entire community, not just a few hours a week on the playing field.