I'll remember Devin Gardner the same way as I do Denard Robinson.
I refer to both Robinson and Gardner as table-setter players. Players who played with the program for a period of time and set the table, so to speak, for someone else to take over in hopes that the program is on its way to getting fixed. We've seen it with the basketball program, it can happen with the football program.
Gardner has seen his fair share of scrutiny, some of it warranted and other times not so much, but one can never question the amount of heart and passion he has for the University of Michigan. The past two seasons have seen him being hit more times than any Michigan quarterback in recent memory, on and off the field. He's been beaten, battered, bruised and even broken heading into the tail end of his senior season.
With all that being said, what I read today about Gardner had me utterly disgusted of the gall that some people have. However, at the same time, my respect for him grows even more.
Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News published a piece discussing the trials and tribulations of Gardner and Michigan's struggles as of late. The topic of conversation seemed normal until he delivered a horrifying quote.
"I've been called the N-word so many times this year," Gardner said in the piece. "One guy told me I was the N-word, and said I know N-words can't play quarterback. And I was like, are we not past this? Say what you want about my skill, but come on."
Whether this was to his face or through the cowardly veil of social media, resulting to racism to air one's grievances with Gardner's skill is absolutely horrifying.
Now, every fan base has its fair share of bad seeds, one person doesn't characterize the Michigan faithful. However, no matter who you direct a racial slur towards, no matter the race, it sets society back even further than it already is. Sometimes there's more to life than football and some people need to grasp that.
Not only are these young adults coming to Michigan to be successful on the football field, they are also learning to become men off it in the classroom. Perhaps social media invites the hate from people all over the world, but it doesn't make it acceptable. With the program in a tailspin, frustrations boil over from all directions. But it doesn't give a person the right to spout pure, unadulterated, hatred.
The players are privy to the hate, but this isn't professional football.
A true sign of unintelligence is resulting to insults and, in this case, racial slurs to try and get a point across. "N-words can't play quarterback?" Not only is that statement uttered from a fan utterly dense, but NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon and Heisman Trophy winners Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton would like to have a word with you.
Think before you speak. But there's no cure for those who hold pure hatred in their hearts.
The program is down? Fine, but it doesn't take away from what Gardner has given to Michigan. He has given every ounce that he has, including broken bones, to try to be successful at quarterback. Currently working on his Masters degree, he is still just a student-athlete.
He took extra classes in high school to get to Michigan early to learn the playbook, he was thrown out to the wolves in the early parts of his career in positions where he was destined to fail.
Did he complain? Never publicly.
He was even moved to wide receiver to capitalize on his talents and was eventually moved back to quarterback. This season he was benched in favor of a sophomore who had played in one full game in his career.
Did he complain then? Not once, he's accepted everything head-on because he loves Michigan and wants nothing but the best.
Does he deserve better? Absolutely.
For someone to belittle him to the point where he is being brought down as a lesser player because of the color of his skin, it almost ruins all of his hard work. This is not a Michigan problem mind you, this is a societal problem. One that doesn't have an end in sight, which is the saddest fact of them all.
What makes Gardner a man, a special one at that, is that he'll never let that bring him down.
With his career coming to an end, Gardner should be celebrated for giving Michigan everything he could possibly muster. Although the success didn't necessarily transfer on the football field, he represented Michigan with pride. Never once did he provide the program with a black eye or leave a permanent stain.
In a time where the program is struggling mightily, that's all you can really ask for.