Rabalais: Tyrann Mathieu a person, not a persona

And so the Tyrann Mathieu era at LSU comes to a sudden, self-inflicted end. Not wrapped in the glory of a Senior Day standing ovation in Tiger Stadium. Not draped in praise and well-wishes before taking flight to the NFL after his junior season.

No, Mathieu is gone, leaving behind a greatest hits album filled with one remarkably brilliant track after another and a string of mistakes and misdeeds that exhausted the patience of an entire university.

How is it best to remember Tyrann Mathieu? Like the young man himself, the answer is a surprisingly complicated one.

Mathieu showed his fans and the media a sunny side, the side with the copper-tinged hair and crackling smile. But there was apparently a darker side, too, a side where demons dwelled that all the cheers and all the fame and all the hero worship couldn’t overcome.

LSU is out a football player. A very talented football player, who possesses an almost magical knack for making big plays at precisely the moment his team needs them. No player ever at LSU comes to mind who had his timing for the dramatic, his flair and creativity.

That is a significant loss for the Tigers, paired with the awkwardness of having to purge a returning Heisman Trophy finalist from its roster. But LSU has more talented players. It isn’t the worst-case scenario for the Tigers. If Mathieu had suffered a season-ending knee injury, the team would go on. It will be harder, but LSU can still flourish. It can still make a run to Miami for the BCS national championship game. There will simply be a lot more pressure on a lot of other players to fill the void he leaves.

But there is a human drama at play here as well. If, as it has been reported, it is correct that Mathieu had to be kicked out after failing multiple drug tests, then the concerns for a human being far outstrip the concerns of how LSU will be able to stop Arkansas’ offense on third-and-6 come November.

Whatever Mathieu did, he couldn’t stop doing it. And the inability to keep his life moving in a positive direction, toward virtual immortality as an LSU football player and a virtually life-lasting fortune in the NFL, is deeply troubling.

It is easy, and not at all incorrect, to say Mathieu behaved selfishly. He let down a team and a town and a campus and a legion of fans who drank in his fantastic feats and gave him back an outpouring of devotion.

But it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t hold his life together for eight months until some NFL team would come calling with an armored truck full of cash. And he couldn’t respond to the efforts of people at LSU who reached out to help — not just to help the Honey Badger, a persona, but to help Tyrann Mathieu, the person.

“It’s heartbreaking,” LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva said.

There is no better word for it. Ultimately, Mathieu should be pitied, not pilloried. And instead of a curse, a wish for him to find his way would be more appropriate.