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The unlimited potential of Alton Robinson

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Alton Robinson amassed a lot of bad tape his final season at Syracuse. Feel free to check it yourself. There’s plenty of footage to be found on YouTube. That’s how a really talented defensive end falls into the fifth round. I don’t think any of that tape means much of anything anymore. For Robinson, appetite came with the meal.

That’s a slight distortion of a Rabelais quote. I know it from Magnus Carlsen, who used it to describe why and when he started truly applying himself to becoming a great chess player. The original quote is a little more humorous. “Appetite comes with eating ... but the thirst goes away with drinking.” Guy was a drunken monk, you see. I had read Gargantua and Pantagruel kind of before taking Katya Amato’s class a couple years back, but I really hadn’t. It’s a hard book and it takes a brilliant instructor to make it live again. Katya lost her fight with cancer a few months back. I deeply regret not writing about her previously. Don’t put off telling the people you love that you love them, however you love them.

What I loved about Katya was her toughness. I’ve been to a few colleges in my meandering course of education. From the beginning and evermore so classes have suffered from benign neglect. Discussions led by people who very clearly did not read the material. Those already stultifying discussions protracted to the length of a class by a small handful of students who continually contort the subject to some hip idea barely understood. I’ve got a Klaus Kinski tic which emerges whenever I hear the word “gaslighting.”

Katya kicked some ass, sometimes even verging on meanness, because she knew that what is rough on the individual is often kind to the many. Someone’s gotta hold the line. Someone’s gotta enforce a standard. Someone’s gotta care enough to do the tough work of enforcing rules. You better have done the reading. You better not filibuster in grand style. Unless you wanted a tough, smart as hell woman holding you accountable for your BS in front of the class.

I don’t know when colleges got that way. I hardly know of a classroom that’s otherwise. My upbringing was defined by neglect, though hardly benign. My peers were told they could do anything and given no skills to do anything. Empty hope replaced the dirty business of teaching and discipline. Well, you can’t. You can’t do anything. Most people can’t do a lot of things, and that’s okay. Don’t make your dreams defined by a dream job unless you want to give power over your happiness and satisfaction to strangers. Most people would be better off finding a practical job and defining their dreams by what they can do in their free time. Truth is, benign neglect is not benign. It is pernicious and the havoc it creates can be felt for a lifetime.

The Seattle Seahawks played some unbelievably sloppy football today. I’m not going to call out players individually, but the list is long. And I’m not going to delve into the shady business of interpreting body language, but I saw two players in particular who looked totally okay getting beat again and again. But I actually think Pete Carroll is or at least was a very good coach, a good motivator who has mastered the art of holding players accountable without shaming them to the media. Last year’s surprise cut of Gary Jennings Jr. comes to mind.

Robinson is evidence of that. His play in college earned his draft position, but he has immense talent. I personally think the exploitation of college players is disgusting. I do not really fault any player who doesn’t come into their own until they’re being paid a portion of the riches they’re making others. An appetite without a meal is frustrating, and it’s often easier to just not feel hungry. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, his quickness is still there, and outside of maybe Benson Mayowa, he already looks like the team’s most complete pass rusher.

Today’s game was not a superhero movie. It was stressful and dramatic, filled with hard losses and false horizons. I feel as tired as a person can after sitting on their ass for four hours. It felt nothing like the you-can-be anything-you-want, good-always-wins, eternal adolescence of contemporary pop culture. It felt like life, hard as a motherf-cker life. And I loved it. It was one of the best games I can ever remember.

Life is filled with loss and it’s filled with wellsprings of hope you would never anticipate. Never could anticipate, which doesn’t quite describe the play of Alton Robinson. Life is also too messy to fit my hacky need for soaring rhetoric. Truth is, we don’t know what this guy can be. I wrote up the title in a sort of enterprising mood. I am an employee after all, and it has sex appeal. It is incredibly, incredibly hard to achieve greatness in those few fields of endeavor most people dream of achieving greatness in. There are billions of people and thanks to greater equality of opportunity competition is tougher than ever. Robinson generated a bit of buzz in camp. With Carroll it’s always an open question whether that means he’s excelling or whether Carroll’s puffing up his pride because he’s struggling. After today we can say Robinson earned that buzz.

Now it’s time for the impossibly hard part. Robinson has been given the gift and curse of being one of the select few who have a chance to achieve their professional dream. It’s gonna be crazy hard. It’s going to require painful sacrifice. Whereas the chance of failure is precluded for most by never having a chance, now Robinson can really and truly fail. He may fail through no fault of his own. If he does, he wont’ regret that. He’ll regret becoming complacent, satiated. Today the young man played hungry. The truly great never know a meal that doesn’t make them hungrier.