When the story of Nevada high school offensive lineman Kevin Hart first appeared here (after, you know, appearing elsewhere), it was clear that — however the story ended and despite his theatrical announcement that he would be doing just that — Hart was not going to play football at Cal. And in that sense, and probably that sense only, the incidents of the last few days — which have seen the revelation of an elaborate but shoddy hoax perpetrated by Hart himself that involves both an imaginary rogue recruiter named “Kevin Riley” and a fair amount of obvious psychological distress — don’t come as a surprise. In almost every other way, though, Hart’s hoax is pretty stunning, even if its broad outlines were starting to come into shape back on Tuesday. The Reno Courier-Journal‘s Chris Gabel, who has been atop this story from the start, recapped the story on Thursday:
The fact the hoax went on as long as it did is remarkable in and of itself. As early as September, both Hart and Hodges said Oregon was heavily recruiting the 6-foot-5, 290-pound left guard — though the university said Monday that it did not recruit Hart.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, Lyon County School District assistant superintendent Teri White said the district’s internal investigation of the situation continues, though statements Hart made to sheriff’s deputies indicate he did not have an accomplice — which only adds to the saga longtime recruiting experts have said they’ve heard nothing like.
Hart, who was supposed to be the Vaqueros first athlete to receive a full scholarship to a Division I institution directly out of high school, hardly appeared nervous as he passionately spoke to the Fernley student body and administrators last Friday about why he made his decision before donning a Cal hat to a standing ovation.
Later, Hart joked about his good luck in being able to go from such a small town to one of the biggest programs in the West.
“I’m sure it won’t hit me until I hit the practice field and I get welcomed to the Pac-10,” Hart said Friday, eliciting laughter from the room that included his proud grandparents, athletic director Jay Salter, White and Hodges among others.
All, it appears, were in the dark about what was really happening.
Hart hasn’t been speaking to the press since announcing that he’d made everything up, and that will likely continue; it has not stopped the press from speaking on the whole thing, naturally, although the airless vacuity of pieces such as Gene Wojciechowski’s typically unserious this-is-very-serious treatment has managed to make the whole thing seem less interesting. The Courier-Journal provided a roundup of stories about Hart’s story here, which also includes some oddball odds and ends, like Bengals RB Kenny Irons’ dad inviting Hart to work out at his Duluth, GA training facility, saying, “To pull off what he pulled off, it shows he really wants it. I can get him over the hump.”
None of what I’ve read about this has taken the case in its full context, which I suppose is to be expected: there’s a lot going on here, and generating profundity on a deadline is possibly even harder than the average humpy sports editorialist makes it look. From my perspective (and, of course, through my biases), what I see as at the center of this story are not just Hart’s own issues, but two things: the standard teenage wish to be exceptional and adored, taken beyond its reasonable limit; and the outsized malignance of high school football and big-time college recruiting in contemporary culture. The latter fed the former, although the ugliness of the latter doesn’t excuse the shape Hart’s mania took.
There are professional pundits who can expound on this with greater intensity than I. I already thought football was pretty gross, and mostly I just think it’s kind of sad. I think this quote, from Hart, is terribly telling about what he thought was at stake: “There™s negative people all around you and you just kind of have to work through that. It was just me deciding to work hard and forget what the standard at Fernley is, and that™s to finish high school and stay in town and get drunk or go to (University of Nevada-Reno). I chose differently.” Fernley’s demographics don’t tell a story about a particularly destitute or unpleasant place, but demographics never do, and I don’t face the prospect of living there for my whole life. And I didn’t just spin some obviously untenable fantasy about it so that the people of that town would treat me like I was worth something. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Ray Ratto gets at this a little more:
While it is still great fun to swing machetes at the recruiting industry as a soulless and grisly body hunt, the Kevin Hart story is no longer that vehicle. A troubled young man wanted into the game so badly that he made himself seem like a victim of it.
Beating Hart up for this monumental judgmental error seems gratuitous, of course. It was a crime of desperation that embarrassed the perpetrator more than any of its victims – his parents, his coach and the local constabulary – but it spoke loudest to the need to be seen as an athletic hero in the only way a graduating high schooler can, by being a star during National Letter of Intent season.
Cal certainly wasn’t impacted, except for the few embarrassed answers Tedford was forced to give during his letter of intent news conference. Oregon and Oklahoma State properly claimed ignorance and went on with their days.
No, this one landed squarely on Kevin Hart’s unprepared head because he wasn’t ready to face athletic mortality, or because junior college wasn’t part of his dream, or because he just wanted to be someone famous. He is paying the appropriate price, and will have to find an alternate route to Division 1-A football – which he can still manage if he has the game. Football coaches take anyone who can help their days pass easier, and some of them will do anything to get those anyones. It’s the way of the business.
Maybe the Kenny Irons’ Dad Workout Center For Champions can get Hart to D1. I don’t know if it’d make Kevin Hart happy, and I doubt it would change my sense — although I know I’ll be watching college football next fall, because I watch sports without even really knowing that I’m doing it — that there has to be a less-irresponsible, less-compromised, and less ugly way to entertain myself than big-time college football.