Young's Behavior More Troubling Than His Play

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

On the opening page of his official Web site, there's a photo montage of Vince Young looking nearly as invincible as Superman. Football in hand, you get the feeling about the only thing he can't do is fly.

Inside, just past the link to the nearest store selling Vince Young sausage, ribs and brisket, is a spot to download posters of an imposing No. 10 complete with these words of encouragement:

"Believe in yourself."

Good words to live by, if only life were that easy.

Young once believed in himself, believed so strongly that he won a national championship for the Texas Longhorns with one of the greatest performances ever seen against USC at the Rose Bowl. Down late in the game, he drove his team to two touchdowns, closing both out with scrambling runs into the end zone.

NFL scouts weren't too excited about his passing motion, but the idea of a big quarterback who could elude defenders, run at will and throw with accuracy made them believe, too. The Tennessee Titans made him the third overall pick in the 2006 draft, and he rewarded them with a spot in the Pro Bowl in his first season.

Everyone was a believer then. But somewhere along the slide to mediocrity, the beliefs have been shaken.

Now it's hard to figure out what to believe with Young.

The official word Wednesday out of Nashville was that nothing was wrong with Young other than a sprained left knee that will keep him out of three or four games. There was scant mention that coach Jeff Fisher was so worried about his quarterback's mental health that he sent police out on a search Monday night to try and find him.

This wasn't just a case of a coach wondering whether his quarterback had stumbled off to a strip club. Earlier that day, the Titans had sent a psychologist over to talk to Young at his home, so evidently they were worried even before he went off into the night without his cell phone and with an unloaded gun in his glove compartment.

His agent would downplay it later, saying Young was simply at a friend's house eating chicken wings and watching football. But whatever Fisher told police it was enough for them to send unmarked SWAT units out and call crisis negotiators in.

Those kind of things aren't usually done when someone leaves for a drive and doesn't come home on time. They're usually done when someone is distraught and could hurt himself or others.

We may never know what was in Young's mind that night. We do know he appeared disconsolate after throwing two interceptions and getting booed in Sunday's game, and that it appeared Fisher had to force him to re-enter the game before he got hurt.

His mother told The Tennessean that Young was tired of all the negativity and the boos. Felicia Young said her son needed people to give him space and to pray for him.

"It is hard, all he is going through right now. He's hurting inside and out," she said.

But it was just a few boos and one lousy game — which the Titans went on to win. What happens if things really go south for Young?

Is a pro athlete with enormous skills and a contract that could bring him $58 million so mentally fragile that it could be dangerous for him to go on the field and perform?

"When you're booed by fans and you already have a negative self image it reinforces it and can make it worse," said Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter, a sports psychologist in San Carlos, Calif. "If you have 100,000 people saying the same thing that you're already thinking, it's not a good thing."

It's true that all we usually see is the upside of being a famous professional athlete. We see the good times, the big money, the fancy Escalades, and the women who always seem to be hanging by the clubhouse gates.

But when things go sour the stark reality of living up to everyone's expectations can be hard to deal with. It's not just the boos, but the feeling that they've failed in something they never once imagined they would ever fail in.

Playing quarterback just exacerbates that. Fans who wouldn't have any clue whether a lineman missed a block or a receiver ran the wrong route are sure they know when a quarterback is good or bad and usually aren't afraid to let him know it.

The quarterback is the first person praised for winning a game and the first one called names for losing one.

The best that can be hoped for Young is that he just had a few bad days and was merely overwhelmed by not playing well in a game he had spent all of training camp preparing for. A few weeks to rest his sprained knee and heal his wounded psyche might be enough to turn things around.

If not, Young's fans might have a lot more to worry about than whether he can get the Titans in the playoffs this year.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org


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