By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion
Last Saturday, Mississippi State and Ole Miss played in the Egg Bowl, an annual contest played between the two schools since 1901. Huge sports fan that I am not, I was blissfully unaware of the storied rivalry between the two schools until an incident from this year’s game appeared on an internet news aggregation site I follow.
In the closing seconds of the game, Ole Miss Wide Receiver, Elijah Moore, caught a pass and scored, setting up the opportunity for his team to tie the game against Mississippi State and go into overtime. What happened next was not the best example of good judgment in the history of college sports. Elijah Moore crawled several feet on his hands and knees, lifted his leg, and pretended, let us be grateful that it was pretended, to pee on the Mississippi State endzone. The moment, in all it craptastic glory, was captured by a number of photographers. A 15 yard penalty was assessed and what would have been an easy extra point became a 34 yard attempt-which the kicker missed. Ole Miss lost by 1 point. When the kicker missed, a sportscaster on a Russian sports show broke into laughter, lending an international flavor to the news coverage.
The incident had all the makings of an internet sensation, and indeed that is what happened. In the space of a few hours, Elijah Moore, his upraised leg and the Egg Bowl were infamous. The internet is indeed forever, a harsh lesson delivered to a, let us not forget, 19 year old college sophomore. The photograph of him on all fours in the endzone, leg lifted high, will haunt him for the rest of his life.
But of course that could not be the end if it, not in our overwrought popular culture in which virtually every action is fraught with overtones of race, class and a range of other “…isms”, facts on the ground notwithstanding. The comments section of all too many of the various news stories quickly degenerated into overt racism as readers projected their prejudices on the situation. I have no idea if Elijah Moore was raised by wolves, a single mother, the Knights of Malta or a modern day version of the family on Leave it to Beaver – and neither do any of the commentators so blithely speculating on his upbringing. His endzone celebration was rather tasteless, but that is all it was. Elijah Moore did not commit a crime. He did not engage in any unfair play, fight, or otherwise have a history of violence on, or off the field. It is manifestly unfair to refer to him as a “thug” engaging in “thuggish behavior.” Elijah Moore is a 19 year old college sophomore who made an ill considered decision and is paying for it in spades. That’s all he is. I find it truly disturbing that so many people are hiding behind their keyboards and projecting so much hateful bile on this young man. Worse, the hate and prejudice quickly spread from Elijah Moore to Black players-and people- in general.
Yes, Moore’s stunt was tasteless and cost his team a chance at winning a long running rivalry. Nonetheless, I hope Ole Miss’ coach does not remove him from the team. I looked at Moore’s page on Ole Miss Athletics. He is only 19. He has plenty of time to turn his situation around. Can anyone seriously believe he will do anything other than quietly hand the ball to the referee should he have a chance to play again? The internet commandos calling for his ouster from the team, gleefully speculating on the ruination of his NFL prospects and his imminent “return to the ghetto” sans degree need to step back and take a hard look in the mirror. Young men occasionally do stupid stuff. If there ever was a case that called for grace and a shot at redemption, this is it.
As for all those commentators who are so firmly convinced that Elijah Moore is a poster child for all that is wrong with college sports, the NFL and society in general, well, that is a pretty big conclusion to draw from one 19 year old kid’s admittedly boneheaded action. You might want to think about that.