April 14, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Kenny Bell (7) catches a ball prior to the spring game at Bryant Denny Stadium. Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Bell: When Football is Life, But Life Isn't Football

Alabama Crimson Tide senior wide receiver Kenny Bell announced Tuesday afternoon via his Twitter account that it was time for him to “hang up his cleats.” Of course this prompted an explosion of reports, commentary and analysis regarding his apparent departure.

Only hours later in his press conference, Coach Saban announced that Bell had not left the team. Instead he was given a “personal day” on Tuesday and was expected back Wednesday.

Kenny Bell earned his undergraduate degree last December from the University of Alabama. Not only is he an accomplished student, but he has also played a major role on the field for the Crimson Tide.

As a student-athlete, Kenny Bell is a student first and an athlete second. That phrase is no play on words, even though we live in a society that glorifies college athletes to levels never before seen.

For Kenny Bell, and most other college football players, football is life, but life isn’t football. Although Bell is a talented player with great speed and great instincts, it is a possibility that he won’t move on to the next level. Football has been his life for only a season, and that season is coming to an end. Soon he will face the challenges of a normal college graduate. He will be faced with raising a family, fending for himself, and finding a job in his field.

We don’t know why Kenny Bell needed a “personal day” and we may never know. The fact is, college football players have to deal with the same factors of life as any other college aged individual.

Former Alabama head coach Gene Stallings famously refused to dismiss embattled player David Palmer after a pair of DUI arrests. Instead of cutting him loose, Stallings faced down criticism among critics who felt he was keeping his star player on the team for selfish reasons.

Stallings stated that Palmer needed the team more than the team needed Palmer. Perhaps it wasn’t that simple, but Stallings did what he felt was in the best interests of his young player.

With years of experience in college athletics, Nick Saban knows as well as anyone the pressure college athletes face. We tend to focus on the X’s and O’s when it comes to college football coaches, but that is only one of the many strengths of a great college coach. Coach Saban has proved time and time again that he is an excellent coach both on and off the field. He offered his support to Kenny earlier today and reportedly spoke with him several times on Tuesday. “I want Kenny to be happy,” Saban said. The fact is, sometimes life gets in the way.

Always remember, even for the highest profile players, football may be life for a season, but life isn’t football.

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