Rarely does sports commentary become uncomfortable.
On Sunday, opinions surrounding the status of Marcus Mariota crossed that line.
In Tennessee’s Week 17 game against the Indianapolis Colts, which was essentially a playoff game, Mariota was unavailable to play. It marked the third time in four seasons that the former No. 2 overall pick missed a Week 17 game due to injury.
As the saying goes, the best ability is availability. Although Mariota hasn’t missed many games (eight in four seasons), his consistent appearance on injury reports should lead to questions about his viability as a long-term, franchise quarterback.
However, what shouldn’t happen is twofold: Questions about his toughness, and anger over not putting his long-term health at risk.
Since the beginning of the season, it’s evident Mariota wasn’t operating at 100 percent. Yet, he only missed two full games, and even replaced an injured Blaine Gabbert in a game despite being injured himself.
Clearly, toughness for Mariota isn’t a problem, and if you still don’t believe it, here’s what Kevin Byard had to say about his quarterback’s toughness after last night’s loss:
“I think it would be foolish for anybody in the world to question this man’s will to win, his toughness, his character,” Byard said. “I’ve seen this man fight through so many injuries and come back from so much, even this year.
“The guy is a warrior, and I have seen him get knocked down, injured, and come back and play in the same game. I would never question his toughness and his character.”
The bigger issue is the reaction to the situation.
Because so much was on the line Sunday night, there were a number of fans and media pundits who felt Mariota should’ve played, even if it meant risking the rest of his career.
It’s true that any play can end a player’s career. NFL careers are fickle due to the game’s violent nature. However, there’s a difference between a freak accident (career-ending injuries aren’t common) and a specific medical issue that’s at high risk.
I’ll say it loud for the people in the back — there’s nothing “soft” about not playing due to the risk of permanent nerve damage. In my opinion, and I’m sure many doctors will agree with me, nerves are fairly important. Not only for football, but everyday life. It’s fairly reasonable for any human to not want an entire side of their body feeling numb.
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) December 31, 2018
It was the absolute, 100 percent, CORRECT decision to sit Mariota out on Sunday night. If the Titans believe Mariota is their franchise quarterback, one game — albeit an important one — doesn’t trump an entire career.
Don’t tell that to a certain segment of Titans fans though:
Props to @Titans fans for showing up and bringing it tonight. Fantastic crowd. If only their “franchise” quarterback had shown the same heart.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) December 31, 2018
At what point do we draw the line and take off our irrational fan hats? When we’ve reached the point where a single postseason appearance — which, by the way, would’ve ended as quickly as it began — is enough to disregard the well being of another human, it’s time to take a step back and set our priorities straight.
The anger toward Mariota sitting out isn’t justified. What is justified is skepticism toward his standing as Tennessee’s franchise quarterback, as Clay so eloquently stated by placing quotation marks around the word franchise.
Mariota is walking on thin ice. He’ll more than likely be Tennessee’s starter next season. If injuries continue to plague him, then the franchise has no choice but to move on.
Until that decision is made, let’s pump the brakes on calling Mariota “soft” and claiming he “doesn’t have heart.” From a moral and logical standpoint, he did nothing wrong on Sunday night.