Am I my brother's keeper?
Clemson tailback Ray Ray McElrathbey lives his life by answering yes to that biblical question every day.
So, two years ago with his mother battling a drug addiction and his absentee father crippled by an equally self-sabotaging gambling affliction, the question of what to do with his then 11-year-old brother was a simple one for Ray Ray, all of 19 years old at the time.
He would become the legal guardian to young Fahmarr, who would then join his big brother on the South Carolina campus and, together, they would live the cramped dorm-room life.
I, and many others, have been struck by this story since it first broke, and the tender moment made sports-show highlight reels around the globe; it easily ranks as one of the top feel-good stories of that football season or ever. Ray Ray was on Oprah and ABC News took note, tabbing him its 'Person of the Week.'
But somewhere between the wonton euphoria of college sports — as experienced by Kansas fans this week after their NCAA win in San Antonio — and the bottom-line, financial considerations that govern big-time college sports programs, tender moments and the humanity they represent, get lost very, very quickly.
The McElrathbey boys now serve as somber highlights of that reality. Mere months after basking in the national spotlight, Ray Ray and Fahmarr are now simply trying to find a place to rest their heads.
Their touching story, you see, had no place in the world of corporate, collegiate athletics, where the code is as revealing as the one Ray Ray lives by: 'Win. All else be damned.'
How else does one explain Clemson coach Tommy Bowden telling Ray Ray that it was time for him to be moving on. The Clemson program decided to pull McElrathbey's scholarship; he can stay through August when he is scheduled to graduate. But the football career is over; his scholarship pulled, no doubt with the intention of offering it to a someone who can make a bigger impact on the program than Ray, Ray did as a third string back.
Later, Bowden and company made what seemed the obligatory generous gesture of offering McElrathbey a spot as a graduate-assistant, though the question of just how much of his living expenses it would cover remained in doubt. Now, ask yourself, how could Ray Ray McElrathbey be expected to continue providing any stability for his young sibling when his own survival was in such grave doubt?
Truth is, drastic times demand drastic action, and the tough tactics go both ways. The talk of the collegiate sports right now is the almost-certain decisions by the less-than-legal brigade of Derrick Rose, 19 [ Memphis]; O.J. Mayo, 20 [USC]; Michael Beasley, 19[Kansas State]; Eric Gordon, 19 [Indiana], and Jerryd Bayless, 19 [Arizona], to forgo their remaining college eligibility and declare themselves eligible for the NBA draft — and its attendant millions — just one-year into the four-year commitments they made to their respective institutions.
But before passing any judgment on those decisions, think of Ray Ray and Fahmarr McElrathbey, and realize just how fragile those commitments are, how subject to change they are at the end of each season by people like Tommy Bowden and the corporate interests they represent.
Glenn Minnis is a New York writer.