It is rare to hear of a college athlete utilizing Twitter to his advantage, but since this actually happened on Thursday, it feels like a miracle worth acknowledging. The athlete I am referring to is Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones; the context was political, which is always a treacherous place for anyone associated with sports to delve into, but Jones was clever enough to turn an instance of hardcore trolling to his advantage.
Some context: Jones is one of three (or now, technically, two) Heisman Trophy-quality quarterbacks competing for the starting job at Ohio State this fall. He is big and strong and has a howitzer for an arm, and he was the one who, after fellow quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett got hurt, finished off the Buckeyes’ national championship season. He’s also a bit of a character, who originally got himself into trouble for tweeting, back in 2012, about his overarching disdain for academia with the phrase “we ain’t come to play SCHOOL.”
Jones deleted his Twitter account shortly after that. But he soon started a new one, and since then, he’s become something of a social-media savant, posting adorable pictures of his child and celebrating his fealty toward Chipotle and mocking himself repeatedly for his own initial Twitter faux pas and even falling into a brief trash-talking duel with the Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah. (At one point, he bragged about beating the living daylights out of hospitalized child in an NCAA Football video game; even that tweet somehow managed to come across as charming and self-deprecating.)
So on Thursday, Jones retweeted a missive about the Sandra Bland case in Texas, then sent out his own tweets with the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. And what happened next was inevitable, because this is Twitter: Someone sent a virtual scolding back to Jones, writing “worry about getting us fans another championship….Stay out of this bull—-. #GoBucks” And then Jones wrote him back, in a fashion that was both humorous and incisive:
@DanGustafson1 Sorry Mr master, I aints allow to tweet nothing but foolsball stuff I donts want you think I more than a foots ball playa sir
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) July 23, 2015
Jones went on to champion the simple notion that athletes are permitted to their opinions in the same way anyone else is; allowing those opinions to be consumed in a public forum is an understandably fine line for coaches to tread, as Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle (who played at Florida State) told Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman. But this was an important reminder that college athletes are sometimes capable of making incisive statements, that they are not merely cogs in a vast and inequitable money-making machine; it was a reminder that in the late 1960s, when college campuses were dealing with turmoil, college football players were among those making the statements.
I have no idea if Jones will wind up as Ohio State’s starting quarterback this season; what we’re about to witness next month could wind up as the most epic single position battle in the history of the sport. But in the meantime, I hope and I imagine that Cardale Jones will not shut up, that he keep talking, and keep amusing us and keep expressing his opinions, even as others assert that he has no right to do so. It’s not often that Twitter enhances the image of anyone, let alone a young athlete who appears to be developing both mentally and physically within public view, but, as treacherous and moronic as this platform can be, Jones appears to be doing just fine with it.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb