It’s okay to root against Arik Gilbert.
There’s a trend in sports journalism and really, sports debate in general, that fans should not root against players due to decisions made by a player through his own selfish motivations. You can’t criticize a guy for doing what’s best for himself.
Don’t let anyone regulate your fandom. Besides, why would you want to rob yourself one of the very best things about being a sports fan? Rooting against people and constructing imaginary enemies. Heroes are cool, but man, there is nothing like a villain.
Now, we are of course bound by basic rules of human decency. You shouldn’t tweet nasty things at a player. This isn’t actually personal, sports hating a guy is about hating an image, not an actual human being. You shouldn’t root for a player to get injured, nor should you make light of serious off the field issues, like mental health.
But as for booing the ever living hell out of guy? Go to town. Burning him in effigy? Not really my thing, but you do you. Making fun of him on message boards and social media, so long as you aren’t tagging him personally? That’s your right as a fan.
Is it fair? Of course not. But nothing about being a public figure is fair. Besides, the best players absolutely relished their role as a villain. I still get the warm fuzzies thinking about Tebow pantomiming a cell phone call when he scored a touchdown against us. He absolutely shoved that back in our faces, and while it sucked to lose, you have to admit, it was sort of a baller move.
Arik Gilbert came to Baton Rouge as one of the most hyped prospects in recent years. He was a five star tight end who was going to revolutionize the position. And LSU did everything they could to get him to live up those lofty plaudits.
If we remove the last two games in which Gilbert did not play, he ranked second on the team in total targets, catches, and yards. There’s no other way to say it, he was a key cog in the offense, and for most of the season, the biggest contributor not named Terrace Marshall.
But things started to shift for Gilbert after the Auburn game. In his next three starts, Gilbert’s catch percentage dropped to just over 50%. Kayshon Boutte started to emerge and became the top option behind Marshall, seeing more targets, more catches, and more yards in that same three game stretch.
Even more concerning from Gilbert’s standpoint, he wasn’t receiving the same number of targets per game from the new quarterback. TJ Finley worked hard to force the ball to Gilbert to ensure that the freshman got his touches, but Max Johnson didn’t seem to give Gilbert the same attention. In his last two games, as Johnson saw more pass attempts, Gilbert had a total of 54 yards receiving, or one less yard than he had receiving at Arkansas (the last game of the year in which Johnson did not play).
Gilbert, never all that interested in blocking, now saw his productivity decrease in the passing game as LSU turned the keys over to a new quarterback. The writing was on the wall for the rest of the season at least, Gilbert was looking at a reduced role.
Then, without Gilbert, the offense exploded. LSU scored 37 points against Florida and 53 against Ole Miss. LSU gained 418 and 593 yards, totals they had not achieved since Myles Brennan was still healthy. Gilbert sat out, and the team didn’t miss him, at least not from a performance standpoint.
There was talk of Gilbert being homesick, but he didn’t transfer to a school from his home state, he transferred to Florida, a school that suddenly has a Kyle Pitts-sized hole in its starting lineup. He’s going to a program with a track record of churning out tight end prospects to the NFL. From a personal standpoint, he made a good business decision.
But from an LSU fan perspective, that doesn’t matter. He quit on the team and high tailed it to a conference rival. He performed like a player who believes the team exists for his benefit, not vice versa. And maybe that’s how you get to the pros and that’s what’s best for him personally, but he failed to benefit LSU at all, and fans have every right to hold that against him.
He’s a player of immense talent who didn’t take to the selfless work of blocking. Look, even Odell Beckham blocked. You want to have a fan base turn on you, being unable or unwilling to do the visible dirty work is a good way to go about it.
He showed off his gifts, but the moment things got a little hard, his production suffered mightily. As soon as the offense was no longer built around him, he literally stopped playing and then left town. He quit. There’s no other way to say it.
Whether he meant it or not, Arik Gilbert is now a villain in the annals of LSU football. And rooting against villains is fun. I hope he loses every game. Maybe he did what’s right for Arik Gilbert, but I care about what’s good for LSU. I’m not an Arik Gilbert fan, I’m an LSU fan.
That’s the transaction athletes make. All of the love and adulation isn’t unconditional. You at least have to pretend to care about the team that the fans love. Because the team will be here after you’re gone. We’ve invested our love in the team, not in individual cults of personality.
And if you ain’t a Tiger, you’re Tiger bait. Which he’s about to find out.