The Curious Case of (Bryce Brown and) Brian Butler

As we wait another month to find out what Bryce plans on doing with his college career, here are my thoughts on the recruitment of this running back and (perhaps more so) my thoughts on his handler/agent/advisor/mentor/whateveryoucallhim, Brian Butler.  It's a subject that has been discussed by various blogs, media outlets, and hybridized blogmedia, so let me first give a nod to some of the other writings on the subject.  This will focus mainly on Brian Butler, as understanding him and his relationship to Bryce Brown is vital to understanding Bryce Bown's recruitment process itself.

  • Dennis Dodd provides the "pro" Butler story from traditional media.  He makes some compelling points about the guy; motivation from personal experience can be a very powerful thing, and Butler's less-than-stellar recruitment process and collegiate career may indeed be his prime motivator to help other high school kids.
  • Bruce Feldman provides the "con" Butler story.  In it, he more or less points out that there is so much prestige and potential money locked up in college football anymore, that Butler's motives might be less than pure.  He raises questions of whether the wholesome image of Butler's work is legit or mere facade. 
  • Doc Saturday provides the hybrid blogmedia comparison between Dodd and Feldman.  No conclusions are reached, but it's a reasonable quick digest if you want to be lazy and skip the articles (though I suggest reading the articles).
  • There is concern in Kansas that Butler is preferrentially farming out the kids to out-of-state schools with more prestige.  No thoughts from me; it's just fair to let you now that sentiment does exist, for what it's worth.
  • Butler is not the only person who is looking to help high school kids prep for college football (physically, mentally, and in maturation).  Ginn Sr. is perhaps the other most famous name, but there are a lot more out there, and they come in all shades of ethics and motives.
  • For information sake:  Potential Players (Butler's nonprofit) is registered in Dixon, Illinois rather than in Kansas.  Reasons for this could include anything from dodginess to a simpler filing process in Illinois.  I don't know the reason and I refuse to speculate on it, but I do mention it for information's sake.

If you take the time to read through those articles, you'll get a good idea of the wide range of opinions on Butler and his operation.  I really recommend you do so before reading my opinions on it.  I'd like to see what you think, as I'm sure there will be an equally wide range of opinions among us.

So, here's where I stand (at the moment) on Butler...

One of the sad realities of the vibrant openness of the lives of people that has been afforded to us by technology is that we have become very cynical.  We read accounts of presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR, and we get all the good stuff; we don't hear much of their normal lives - their weaknesses and foibles.  We don't see the things that make them real people just like us.  Nowadays though, we get to find out what the college-experimental drug of choice was for each president.  We find out what kind of people they elected to hang out with in their formative years (and who they snubbed).  We catch every single mistake because the privacy of a public person no longer exists.

The same is very true in sports.  Many of our most heralded historical sports figures lived very wild night lives; they partied, drank, caroused, drank, got into trouble, and drank to be the envy of any in-port sailor.  Yet that often stayed out of the limelight.  Now, if an athlete has a conversation with his girlfriend in an elevated voice, there are news articles about the potential breakup and questions of domestic violence.

But once in a while, a person actually has good intentions is is trying to do the right thing.  We see their errors (which are no longer hidden) and we judge because we know that they're no more special than we are.  They're not heroes, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  It's a thin line between flawed good guy and malcontent - a line that's often blurred by the haste of media and blogs to be the first to break bad news.

Which is the case with Butler?  Is he really in this for the good of the players - a guy who's trying to give them the best chance to succeed at the next level, and the best information to make the right decisions for their lives?  Or is he a guy with his eyes on the NFL money, hoping to get players into The League and get some kickback in return?  Or is he simply in it for the power - to be the guy who makes the wheels turn?  The truth is that, for all the information we can dig up on him, we can't readily know the answer.

At least, I can't do it from Knoxville, Tennessee.

But I can observe a few things:

  • Brian Butler has motivation to help players.  You can look up his history; it's as he says it is.  He was a Wichita player who didn't get the help he needed to succeed at the next level, and he fell into the party trap when he did get there.  It made him mad, and this is his way of doing something about it.  That makes sense, and that's perfectly reasonable to the smell test.
  • He did not start this to get to the Brown boys.  Butler started Potential Players and gave help to players years before the Browns were on the map.  Arthur and Bryce are a part of the culmination of his labors; he's built the business up to this point.  So far, the track record is clean.  It's natural in any business to try to build up to the best clientele you can get, and there's no reason that "sports advocacy" (for lack of a better term) should be any different.
  • He has not shown exorbitant profit, nor has he asked for it.  His records are mostly public, but he lives a perfectly normal life financially.  Either he doesn't have the windfall, or he's hidden it extremely well.
  • He does more than developing players physically and promoting them.  He requires them to sit in the front of their classes.  He puts them in Bible studies.  He has them enlist in extracurricular activities at school.  Either he's a really thorough PR man, or he's actually trying to better these kids.  (The latter is easier to believe.)

At this point, there's no reason not to believe his stated intentions.  He's been consistent from his start.  He might be developing his players in a different manner than one of us would do, but that doesn't necessarily mean his motives are unhealthy.

He may make missteps while trying to do the right thing, too.  In the referenced article, you noted that he irked Brown's high school coach a bit.  (You did read those articles, right?  Of course you did.)  People make mistakes.  Perhaps that's the case here; perhaps it's endemic of larger problems.  You have to ask yourself what the context tells you of the situation.  I don't think we have the information to conclude, so it may slice either way for you.

But what if his players make the NFL and reward him with a pile of cash?  Does that necessarily mean that Butler's been shamming us all along?  No.  It could be, but it could also be that the players simply want to thank the guy who helped them make it.  If they do make it (and especially if they stay clean because of him), we shouldn't have a problem with such a gesture.

I'm not endorsing the guy, but there isn't anything concrete to justify condemnation.  For once, I think I'll buck the cynical trend and give him the benefit of the doubt.  Until there's something that suggests he's on the take with a school, or that he has unethical arrangements with the players (or families, etc.), I'm not going to fabricate doubt.

Regarding Bryce Brown

This brings us to Bryce Brown.  No matter how we may feel about his delayed committal (grandstanding!  I know it!  AAAHHH!!!), there's nothing wrong with it.  He's following the rules.  Honestly, I can't blame him for it either.  He'll make his decision with far more information than the hundreds of recruits who signed on NSD.  I understand that.

There are two possible takes on Bryce, and they depend very heavily on your opinion of Brian Butler.  If you think Butler is a fair guy, then you probably give Bryce the benefit of the doubt, and you're fine with the assumption that he's doing his best albeit with some eccentricies).  If you think Butler is a shyster, then Bryce is probably a malcontent and gloryhound in your own eyes.

So for now, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.  I'll also give them some latitude in case they don't do everything absolutely perfectly in everybody's eyes.  If things aren't as they seem, we'll find out in due time.  But until then, let's be careful about judging them based on the patterns of other people.

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