Whatever your thoughts about John Ross, they’re probably right.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ first-round pick from the 2017 NFL Draft has not lived up to the billing of being selected over Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Tre’Davious White, Ryan Ramczyk, and several other budding or established star players.
That his former head coach Marvin Lewis was obviously averse to playing him and his injury problems have not helped him develop properly in his first three years.
His game-changing speed and after-the-catch ability are of the same caliber as they were when he finished his college career with 1,150 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns at Washington.
All of it is true. All of it is indisputable. All of it is known by Ross himself.
Following his first practice in over a week, Ross took his turn to catch up with local media about his offseason. He had just returned from spending a week in California caring for his three-year old son, who had recently tested positive for COVID-19. Ross leaving the team right before padded practices began wasn’t ideal, but nothing comes before family.
Bengals WR John Ross on going home to see his son: "There was no chance of me staying. With all due respect, I'm a father."— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) August 23, 2020
“When it comes to my son, I would say it definitely wasn’t stressful. It doesn’t matter, I was willing to risk anything,” Ross said. “It didn’t matter to me, none of that mattered. I just wanted to see him get well. That was the most important part. The stressful part was me having to wear a mask, not being able to hold him, kiss him and let him know that I’m here for him. Just not being able to physically touch him and things like that.”
Such a situation warrants whatever empathy and understanding from fellow teammates and superiors is needed. Thankfully, that’s what Ross received when he left.
“Just the response that I got from the coaches, it put me in a different head space,” Ross said. “It was very respectful, and I appreciate how they went about it and how much they were there for me.”
“Family comes first no matter what,” Tee Higgins told reporters of Ross’ return. “We had his back no matter what. He came back to practice and we welcomed him like he has always been here.”
That’s the culture often brought up by head coach Zac Taylor being put to good use.
Unfortunately for Ross, he’s not in a position like A.J. Green is in. Every missed practice for Ross has potential ramifications. In his time away, Mike Thomas has emerged in his place as a productive target for quarterback Joe Burrow. Even without Thomas, there are several worthy pass-catchers vying for vying playing time or simply roster spots. Ross is just a cog in what now looks like a well-oiled machine; entering a contract year after the team declined his fifth-year option this past Spring, no less.
Oh yeah, he was asked about that as well.
“I wouldn’t have picked up my option, either,” Ross said. “It guarantees injury if you get hurt. I’ve been injured every single year. That’s not a bad decision by them. And now it’s on me to show them why I should be here longer. That’s how I look at it.”
The fine line between clear transparency and superficial fluff with athletes is examined every single day, whether we know it or not. When Ross says that, he’s objectively not wrong by any evaluation, but it does cause us to actually think. It’s not something we can casually chalk up to regular interview verbiage and move on. It makes us pause and realize he actually cares about the situation at hand.
And depending on whatever the situation is, we either react acceptingly because we can relate or it coincides with our values, or we reject negatively because we simply disagree. We’re seeing it the most when athletes speak up on real world issues, but it also occurs when they evaluate themselves too.
Self-awareness of any kind from notable figures in sports must be appreciated or else it dies out from a lack of demand. And there is no better case of self-awareness than that quote from Ross.
Ross claims he’s “the most confident” he’s ever been, and it’s hard to disagree. When you accept the situation you’re in for what it is, nothing more, nothing less, and you know how to attack it, there’s nothing holding you down from achieving it except yourself.
With his family safe and his mind sharp, Ross isn’t going to be the guy that gets in the way of himself.