NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson certainly seems to have made a colossal mistake in drafting tackle Isaiah Wilson, but that shouldn’t be the primary concern of those observing Wilson’s steep fall from grace.
Wilson, the Titans’ first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, has rung up a lengthy list of off-field mishaps since coming to Nashville for Training Camp back in August, including a disturbing D.U.I. arrest in September.
While it’s disappointing on a pure football level that Wilson likely will end his rookie season without providing a single on-field contribution for the Titans, there’s a bigger and sadder story at play here: a human being has seemingly fallen off a cliff in his personal life.
A HUMAN STORY
This isn’t the time for schadenfreude or jokes. Isaiah Wilson is, clearly, badly struggling. What a sad situation. https://t.co/HfnGSWageQ
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) December 5, 2020
We’re at the point with Wilson where the saga of his woes is no longer a football story—it’s a human one.
A lot of Titans fans have, understandably, been eager to grab their metaphorical pitchforks and torches whenever a new Wilson incident has been announced. It’s time for everyone to move past that, though. It’s time to feel sorry for him.
Some of you who haven’t already stopped reading are probably asking yourself: “why should I pity a 21-year-old who just got a $6.5 million signing bonus and who has committed at least one crime?”
The answer: he’s a human who’s struggling badly. That’s it. That’s the only reason you need to feel sorry for Wilson.
It can be easy to forget, sometimes, that professional athletes aren’t superheroes. They’re not simply models for the cartoon images you see on Madden. They’re people. They have feelings. They struggle.
OUT OF CHARACTER
Vrabel on Isaiah Wilson: “We’re comfortable with the person we brought in here.
“There’s good people who make mistakes, and there’s bad people. I don’t think Isaiah is a bad person.” #Titans
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) September 15, 2020
And Wilson’s struggles have been out of character, which is what makes them especially shocking and alarming.
Everyone associated with Wilson raved about his decision-making, character, work ethic and personality around the time of the 2020 draft.
Sam Pittman, Wilson’s college position coach, said Wilson’s work ethic was impressive from the first day he arrived on Georgia’s campus after graduating high school.
“He graduated one night, and he drove down through the night, and we had a run at 11 a.m. It was hotter than hot there in Athens,” Pittman said. “He got out of his car after about a 12-hour drive and started running.”
Robinson praised, of all things, Wilson’s discipline.
“I think from a self-discipline standpoint, he came across as a really mature guy, a really intelligent guy,” Robinson said.
“Everything we heard coming out of Georgia was that he was a hard-worker, he was a coachable guy.”
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel highlighted Wilson’s locker-room impact.
“This guy, he’s a great teammate,” Vrabel said. “He cares about his teammates, and [Georgia head coach] Kirby Smart couldn’t say enough great things about him.”
Five months later, Wilson was arrested after doing donuts at an intersection and subsequently crashing into a concrete wall while intoxicated in Nashville.
Also, since August, the 21-year-old has nearly jumped off a balcony to avoid the police after breaking COVID-19 protocol by attending a party at Tennessee State University, been suspended by his own team for a violation of team rules, and missed a practice because of a “headache.”
Wilson also spent two separate stints on the Titans’ COVID-19/Reserve list, the second lasting for five weeks.
MORE THAN JUST A DUMB KID
Save the shocking D.U.I. incident, any one of the mishaps on that list could be chalked up to immaturity had it occurred in isolation. But when you put the whole list together and add the D.U.I., you go far beyond the territory of “hey, everyone makes mistakes, I certainly did at age 21!”
Because, though everyone certainly makes mistakes when they’re young, not everyone suffers from a complete character shift involving two incidents that evoke images of the video game “Grand Theft Auto.”
As easy as it would be to say that Wilson simply needs to “start making better choices” and “quit jeopardizing his chance at an NFL career,” anyone who’s gone through mental health struggles, big or small, understands that conquering those struggles is not as simple as flipping a switch.
Wilson undoubtedly understands the gravity of his actions, but the problem is that he can’t get back on the right path, and that’s sad.
GETTING BACK ON THE RIGHT PATH
To help him get back on the right path, Vrabel and the Titans seem to have decided on a “tough-love” approach, which is probably appropriate.
“Love isn’t always about hugs and kisses, it’s about holding them accountable and trying to make sure that they’re doing the things that help them and in turn, help the team,” Vrabel said when asked about Wilson’s recent suspension by the team.
“I know that Jon and myself and the organization are committed to helping Isaiah.”
Whether Vrabel and Robinson can get through to Wilson remains to be seen, but that’s certainly the outcome that Titans fans and, honestly, really everyone should be rooting for.
Wilson is trending toward bust territory very quickly, and Titans fans have every reason to be upset about the decisions he’s made off the field. It would be unfair to ask for fans or anyone else to look past those mistakes.
After all, Wilson has done more than endanger himself and his career—he’s endangered others. Far too many people have seen their lives shattered because of drunk drivers, and Wilson is lucky that his behavior has yet to harm anyone other than himself.
What isn’t unfair, though, is to plead with fans to put away the pitchforks and torches, at least for now, and root for an Isaiah Wilson comeback.
It would be immensely tragic if Wilson, a 21-year-old with immense physical talent, ultimately ruins his chance at a dream career in the NFL, even if that ruining were to come as a result of his own poor decisions.
For the sake of a fellow human who’s currently fighting a losing battle, we should all hope for that to not be the outcome of this situation.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today