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Friday, June 5, 2020

Jim Harbaugh: Players skipping bowl game hurts their legacy

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh won’t stop a player from skipping a bowl game, but he does think such a decision could tarnish a player’s legacy.

The Michigan Wolverines head coach joined the “Pardon My Take” podcast on Barstool Sports for an episode published on Monday. During his interview with hosts Big Cat and PFT Commenter, Harbaugh was asked for his thoughts on players skipping bowl games. While he understands such a decision, he thinks it goes against the competitive nature of being an athlete.

“Yeah, I do, and I think it hurts somebody’s actual legacy, too, just what they’re about,” Harbaugh said when asked whether players skipping bowl games hurts the sport. “A competitor is going to compete; they’re going to go out there and compete. Everybody talks about it — they’re a competitor, I’m a competitor, ‘I’ll compete at everything. I’ll compete at golf or I’ll compete at Tiddlywinks.’ You hear people say that all the time, but then they don’t go actually play in a football game.”

Harbaugh then brought up the Ted Williams 1941 story to augment his point. Williams is the last MLB player to bat .400 in a season and did so by batting .406 in 1941. Part of the legend of the story is how Williams did it. Williams was 179-for-448 on the season entering the final day, which was a .39955 batting average — barely rounding up to .400. He could have sat out the final day and entered the books as a .400 hitter rounded up. Instead, Williams played in both games of a doubleheader on the final day and went 6-for-8 to raise his average to .406.

“To me that’s a problem that you have a problem now with who you are as a competitor and your legacy. I put it this way: Ted Williams, you gotta love Teddy Ballgame. Ted Williams goes into the last day of the season hitting .3996. Everybody tells him ‘don’t play. Don’t play tomorrow. You’re already at .400 rounded up. You got it, you don’t have to do it.’ People would have agreed with that. But he said no, went out and played, it was a doubleheader and he went 6-for-8, and he ended up hitting .406 for the season. Now you’re a legend. Not .3996 rounded up to .400 with an asterisk by it. You went out and hit .406. That’s how you get legendary legacy status.”

This is a point I’ve been making on the subject, though the Williams story shared by Harbaugh really helps hammer it home. Fans love and watch sports because of what athletes do on the field. That’s how memories and legends are created, not by players sitting out and skipping games. Jaylon Smith, who got injured playing in a bowl game, recognizes that. The year after his injury, guys like Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette passed on their bowl games, which started a trend. Just last season four Michigan players — Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Karan Higdon and Juwann Bushell-Beatty — all skipped the team’s bowl game.

Harbaugh may understand his players’ reasoning for skipping bowl games, but he doesn’t agree with it.

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