For many Arkansas football fans, Michael Dyer is one of the most polarizing sports figures around. As a senior at Little Rock Christian High School, he was the top ranked running back in the nation. Dyer, of course, chose Auburn and it didn’t appear as if the Razorbacks finished a close second.
For a while, it appeared as if Dyer had made the correct decision. Two straight 1,000 yard seasons and a BCS National Championship Game MVP award will make it seem that way. But things weren’t going nearly as smoothly off the field. Dyer was smoking synthetic marijuana, and apparently running with the wrong crowd. The wheels started coming off in spring 2011 when his gun was used during an armed robbery, the vehicle started smoking in winter 2012 after he was indefinitely suspended from Auburn and then released from his scholarship and the whole thing went up in flames last summer when he was released from Arkansas State after more bad news involving marijuana and a gun.
Given these events, it’s little wonder Dyer has lately stayed out of the public eye.
Since fall 2012, he’s attended Arkansas Baptist College, the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi River, and is on track to earn his associate’s degree this summer in general studies, college president Fitz Hill told me.
Dyer has only given two interviews with mainstream media this year. In one this spring, with THV’s Mark Edwards, he says he would like an opportunity to walk on at the University of Arkansas. “I was asked to sit out [of football for] a year,” Dyer said on the broadcast. “I was asked to do a lot of changing and maturing to become a better person and a better football player. I spent this whole year doing exactly what I was asked to so that I could reach some of the goals that I knew later that I wanted to do.”
Perhaps Dyer ends up at a major college football program next season, looking to swing for the fences instead of suffering a third strike. Maybe he finds no major college is willing to take the risk. Either way, that college’s decision doesn’t ultimately matter nearly as much as whether Dyer has truly sought to become a better person this past year or not.
We talk about Dyer because of what he has done on the football field, in front of a thousand cameras and million eyes. But it’s the small decisions he’s made over the last year, the temptations he’s said “yes” or “no” when hardly anybody was around, that will more determine whether he thrives as a person or not.
Society may see Dyer’s “success” as football-based, but I hope Dyer has matured enough to know that the sport is of greatest benefit to him as a tool. If he is better now, if he has truly come around like he says he has, he will also be mature enough to be able to let go off football one day (possibly soon) and find success in whatever field he turns his mind to.
Because, as polarizing as Dyer has been for many football fans in this state who don’t know him, there are still a lot of people who do love him.
If you want proof, look at these pictures below. These pictures were taken last fall at a youth crime prevention program called the OK Program. Dyer was invited to share his story – the good, the bad and the ugly – with the teenagers who made up the audience.
He did, and he did a great job of it:
These kids aren’t praying for Dyer because he ran for three touchdowns for their favorite football team. They probably wouldn’t care which college program he played for. All they know is that he was once so high, and in some ways has come so low. But with their prayers he can be lifted again.
And, if his words hit their hearts right, so can they.
If Dyer wants to succeed in life – on the field and off, he would do well to nourish his roots and remember to seek strength from those who choose to love him despite the helmet he wears.
A family comes in all forms.
“I’ve seen baseball change—I hate to say it like this—to a middle-class white-man’s sport over the years that I don’t think is fair across the board.” – Norm DeBriyn
Arkansas eked out a 5-4 win against Baylor on Sunday to set up a decisive Game 3 on Monday at 6:05 PM on ESPNU (or ESPN2, depending on the cable gods’ whims). If Arkansas wins, it heads out to Omaha for its second College World Series in four years. Despite a recent stretch of weak hitting, despite UA’s horrendous showing at the SEC Tournament and in Game 1 vs. Baylor, the Razorbacks’ season would gain instant salvation. With the increased media attention paid to Arkansas since its last CWS appearance (2009), it would be safe to say “Arkansas baseball has never been hotter than it is right now.”
Lost in the glare, though, would be some startling statistics: Five African-Americans started on the Hogs’ 1985 CWS team, but the numbers have dropped precipitously since then. In the last 14 years, there have been at most four black Hog baseball players. Moreover, in the SEC West in 2010, 2.3% of baseball players were black; that number was 72% in football, 80% in baseball.
Why has African-American participation in baseball nosedived in recent decades? I spent a few months exploring this question by talking with the likes of long-time UA baseball coach Norm DeBriyn, pitcher D.J. Baxendale, Democrat-Gazette writer Rick Fires, former Razorback Arvis Harper and Fitz Hill, a former UA football coach, and D’Vone McClure, one the first African-American Hog baseball signees in years.
My result is an article, which can be accessed in three ways:
1) Grab a Sunday copy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (June 10th) and flip to the Perspective section (Section H)
2) The original version published in Arkansas Life magazine a few weeks ago. In the lower left corner, click on “Vanishing Point: The [changing] face of baseball in our urban centers and colleges.”
3) For those with Democrat-Gazette subscriptions, here’s an updated version.