On Tuesday morning's edition of Good Morning America, Bobby Bowden told the world that in 2007, he had prostate cancer. And as part of Prostate Cancer Awareness month, Bowden came forward to finally tell his story.
Even his former players were shocked to hear the news. Like former Seminoles safety Myrone Rolle, who said on Twitter, "I had no idea & I spoke to him everyday!" All of which is to say, it's nothing short of incredible that Bowden could keep his cancer secret under the amount scrutiny a football coach faces on daily basis—from media, players, alumni, etc. But he did. Why he did is what raised some eyebrows.
As he told Robin Roberts on ABC Tuesday, he didn't want to hurt the program. "When you’re coaching, you’re looking for some kind of break for when you can get an advantage on the other guy. If word got out that Bobby Bowden had cancer, it’d have me dying on the headlines."
This prompted a familiar refrain of cynicism from around the media. Like Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel, who tweeted, "College sports everyone! ... NCAA expects players to respect "ethics" of a system run by people who would bash an old man having cancer." And it's the natural reaction, of course. Plenty of people will hear this news and curse the evil world of college sports.
But it's not college football's fault. There are plenty of instances where the NCAA's bizarre ethics deserve our scorn and derision, but on this one, being cynical just makes you look naive.
Bobby Bowden hid his cancer to protect Florida State's football program the same way Steve Jobs once hid his cancer to protect the value of his company. It's not rare for prominent CEOs to hide illnesses to protect themselves, their business, and the people they employ.
Bowden isn't complaining about having to hide his cancer, and we shouldn't look down on competition that might've used his health against him. It's not about competitors "bashing" an old man with cancer, but telling a high school recruit choosing between a handful of coaches, "Bobby Bowden may not be at FSU in four years." There's too much at stake to expect people politely ignore the elephant in the room, and Bowden knew that as well as anyone.
What's key here is that everyone's honest about what college football is.
You can say that college football needs to be more transparent and pay players and admit it's a business and escape the fog of denial that shrouds everything; but if you're demanding transparency from a billion dollar business, you can't be aghast when you find out how it really works.