Ah, yes, August. When the boys of fall gather to prepare for a new season of our favorite sport. Pads and helmets cracking, crushed tires getting stuck in the shoes of players and coaches, junior college coaches challenging referees to fights, repetitive practice reports.
And over the last few years, the continuation of The War on Jadeveon Clowney.
I came across this article today on The Ringer entitled The One-Hit Wonder, with the sub-head Have We Already Seen the Best of Jadeveon Clowney?
The post is mostly fair, wondering if Clowney will ever develop into the most dominant defender in the NFL that seemed to be his destiny a few short years ago. And I must admit, each passing practice session or exhibition game or regular season game where I read “Clowney will not suit up” or “Clowney inactive” allows more doubt to creep into my Clowney-loving mind that maybe he never will live up to his billing. But more often than not the reports and responses to Clowney’s injury misfortune slip into mean-spirited hot takes – he’s lazy, he has no work ethic, he’s a bum. Now we’re even starting to see the ugliest word that can be attributed to a first-round draft pick be bandied about – BUST.
But the attacks on Clowney started before the Houston Texans made him the number one overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. After a spectacular sophomore season at South Carolina, someone floated the idea that Clowney should consider skipping his junior season and start preparing for the draft as the presumptive first pick. Even though Clowney flatly stated that he never even considered that as an option, somehow the idea became attached to him like a parasite. All of the sudden he was a bad teammate for considering something that he never even considered.
Then, when JD didn’t live up to the unrealistic standard we had all set for him in his junior season, he was roundly criticized by those outside of the Gamecock community. Again, he was lazy. He didn’t want to be here. He was selfish. He had poor work ethic. Never mind the fact every offense we faced designed their entire gameplan around not letting number 7 beat them. He consistently had 2-3 men blocking him. How else do you think Kelcy Quarles picked up 9.5 sacks that season?
Even after a spectacular pro day solidified his seemingly tenuous position as the number one pick, it didn’t matter. People had made up their minds, and their minds are still made up. But we’ve added another label to Clowney since he entered the NFL: injury-prone. This label is unfortunately justified, but is completely unrelated to all the other labels that have been used to tear down Clowney over the last few years. Just ask all the coaches and trainers who have worked with JD, and they’ll tell you he has worked his ass off to get back on the field and nobody is more frustrated than he is. Bill O’Brien, head coach of the Texans, is about as no-nonsense an NFL head coach as you’ll find, and he has been very supportive of Clowney throughout his injury troubles. If Bill O’Brien thought Clowney wasn’t working hard enough to get back, I promise you you would know about it.
Most importantly there is the nature of Clowney’s most significant injury – cartilage damage that required microfracture surgery. You can read a little detail about microfracture surgery in the linked article, but basically it is a career-threatening injury and procedure. It is not career-threatening in a “never play again” sense, but in a “will never be the same” sense.
Gosder Cherilus, then playing offensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, had undergone and returned from microfracture surgery himself. At the time, Cherilus’s prognosis for the then-21-year-old Clowney was as succinct as it was damning: “He’s screwed.”
“Cartilage doesn’t heal. It’s one of the few tissues that doesn’t heal at all,” Gomoll said. “If you cut your skin, at least it heals with a scar. If you cut your liver, it heals with liver tissue. If you break a bone, it heals with bone. But with cartilage, for reasons we still don’t completely understand, it just doesn’t heal.”
When Marcus Lattimore suffered a career-threatening (and ultimately career-ending) knee injury, the outpouring of support and empathy was overwhelming. Nobody called him a bust when he gave up his comeback and decided to retire from the 49ers. But Jadeveon Clowney is getting crucified for his inability – so far – to return from a potentially career-threatening injury. What has Clowney done, or not done, to deserve this derision?
(Quick note: I understand how different these injuries were and how the comparison might not sit well with some. Lattimore’s injury was extremely public, and gruesome, while Clowney’s was private, and invisible to us. However, we are still talking about a career-threatening injury for JD, so the point stands.)
I want Clowney to succeed in the NFL in the worst way. I want him to prove everyone wrong. I truly believe he’s working as hard as he can to get back on the field for the Texans, but his body so far has betrayed him. If he doesn’t make it in the League I will never, ever lower myself to calling him all those names his enemies are calling him with a self-satisfied smirk on their face.
Clowney chose the University of South Carolina when he could’ve literally chosen any school in the country. He gave us some of our greatest memories during our greatest seasons. He did nothing truly worthy of ridicule while he was here, and I believe he has done nothing worthy of ridicule since he’s been in the NFL, unless you consider getting injured worthy of ridicule.
Either way, you cannot make me not love Jadeveon Clowney.