In 2009, the Buffalo Bills were in need of pass rush on their defensive line, and they had the ninth overall pick in that year’s draft, which pretty much gave them the pick of the litter in terms of defensive talent. They selected a guy named Aaron Maybin, who had just finished a very impressive year at Penn State. Maybin was supposed to be the next great defensive talent, but it turned out that he wasn’t. In fact, his career in Buffalo went so poorly that he was gone a few years later, after pocketing an immense amount of money. (This was before the current CBA, with its structured contracts for rookies.) Fans hated Maybin for his perceived lack of production and/or effort; fans derided the Bills for once again managing to bungle what should have been a golden opportunity to draft a fine player. In all honesty, as a fan at the time, I fell in both camps.
Maybin landed on a couple other NFL rosters over the next few years, and he had what looked like a decent season for the Jets, although a case can be made that his good sack numbers that year reflect the quality of the Jets’ defensive backfield that year (which was awesome). But Maybin still never caught on anywhere as a productive regular player, let alone a star, and he’s been OOF — Out Of Football — for a few years now, mostly forgotten except by masochistic Bills fans who like to bring up the name, every once in a while, of one the biggest draft busts in franchise history.
In today’s Buffalo News, however, writer Tim Graham has a remarkable story on Maybin’s life since football and the factors that shaped his experience within the game. It’s a pretty amazing piece, and I highly recommend reading it.
The Bills drafted Maybin 11th overall in 2009. Two years, one vainglorious rap song, several flamboyant hairstyles and zero sacks later, the Bills cut him. He was out of the NFL after four seasons.
Maybin isn’t solely to blame. Rare are the instances when an athlete’s inability to meet grand expectations is his fault alone.
Maybin, after all, led the 2011 New York Jets in sacks and tied for fifth among all NFL players in forced fumbles. He retired with an offer from the Indianapolis Colts on the table.
But with the Bills, he was miscast, mismanaged and misunderstood. He was unfinished when he arrived, and still unfinished when the Bills discarded him.
I’ve seen my feelings on football shift significantly over the last five years or so. I admit that it’s easy to take a second look at one’s fandom when the favorite team is constantly bad; maybe if the Bills had been a regular playoff team or even a Super Bowl contender, I’d be a lot more of a fan right now. But maybe not. It seems to me that football’s ugly side has really come out in recent years, from the constant fleecing of taxpayers for the building of stadiums* to the way the game tends to leave its former players with lasting brain damage. I find myself more and more sympathetic to the increasing numbers of players who have walked away from football, while seemingly in their prime and with millions of dollars potentially left to earn.
The fact is, we tend to view our teams as singular entities with interchangeable parts called “players”. Graham’s article on Maybin serves as a valuable reminder that the “parts” are, in fact, human beings, and as such, they bring all their various challenges and difficulties and quirks along with them. In Maybin’s case, it’s a good dose of poor decision-making, coupled with some hard-ball contract negotiating by the team, coupled with life experiences that add to the difficulties. Maybin also had great physical difficulty simply gaining weight to be the proper size for an NFL player, and he happened to be struggling with all of this at a time when the franchise was experiencing massive turnover in the front office and in the coaching staff. All that can wreak havoc with a young player who is still trying to grow and learn the game, and to me, it’s no surprise at all that Maybin eventually decided that he just wasn’t all that emotionally invested in football at all.
What is Maybin doing now? He’s a painter.
Maybin’s garage is full of finished canvases, leaning on each other in rows.
There are portraits of Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Joe Paterno and Tupac Shakur, unhinged erotica, challenging images of gladiatorial sport and slavery, inner-city reflections on death, oppression and strife.
“All my painting I do from the soul, and very rarely does somebody understand it,” Maybin said. “But everything you see me create came from me.
“The beauty in art is that it has so many interpretations. I just want you to feel something to the point of starting a conversation.”
I’m not equipped to say whether he’s a good one or not, but I do like what I’ve seen of his art. We often hear that there is life after football, but it seems to me that sports fans don’t always like to admit that there is life instead of football, too. In fact, there are times when I think that fans should not only realize that there is life instead of football for the players, but there is life instead of football for the fans. Yes, I hated Aaron Maybin as a player.
And then I realized what a colossally stupid reason that is to hate someone.
* Want to know how insane the stadium thing is? Take the case of Atlanta, where the football Falcons will begin play in a new stadium in 2017, replacing their existing stadium which opened in 1992. That’s twenty-five years. And the baseball Braves? They’re moving that same year to their new ballpark, replacing a stadium that opened in 1997. They didn’t even get a combined FIFTY YEARS out of their existing facilities. That is batshit crazy.