#NoKaepNoNFL, week 10: love the players, hate the game (if you must)

I had a completely different post in mind. It was a rant. It was scathing! It was filled with anger and frustration! I was ready to rain down my righteous anger.

Then this story came out.

Marquise Goodwin, wide receiver for the rudder-less 49ers, makes a huge play, collapses to his knees in the endzone, helps his team get their first win…

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… and then announces after the game via instagram that he and his wife have lost their baby.

The story was gut wrenching. What gives a man the strength to play a demanding sport after such a loss? And not only to play, but to, apparently, play at a really high level!

It reminded me of one of the all time great quarterback performances I have witnessed. Brett Favre, on a Monday night game, the day after his father died, threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns in what felt like an otherworldly performance. He would throw a touchdown, celebrate briefly with his teammates, then go back to the sidelines and weep. It was, simply, unbelievable to watch.

This had the same feel. I was already moved just reading the story. Then this:

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This was the picture that Goodwin posted on his Instagram with the message “Unfortunately we lost our baby boy due to some complications, and had to prematurely deliver him early this morning around 4am. Although we are hurt, I am grateful for the experience and grateful that God blessed me with a wife as courageous and resilient as Morgan. The pain (physically, mentally, & emotionally) that she has endured is unbelievable. Please Pray for the Goodwin family”

I saw the picture and I lost it. I choked up, I couldn’t breathe. Something about that image…

I pray that I never know the pain of losing a child. It is my greatest fear. I don’t know that I would recover… I don’t think it is something from which one recovers. I can’t imagine this beautiful couples’ pain.

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It’s easy for me, slow, un-athletic, doughy me, to look up to these men who are incredible specimens of strength, speed, and athleticism. I’ve idolized these men. I’ve marveled on the occasions that I’ve met them face-to-face. I’ve put them on to pedestals. And yet, at the end of the day, they are men. Mere mortals. Human beings with thoughts, feelings, families, and dreams. No better and no worse than any of the rest of us, just gifted with physical skills and incredible discipline.

I can’t imagine what it has been like to be an NFL player this season. To work so hard to get to the pinnacle of your sport, to realize your dreams of getting to play in front of thousands of people on Sunday, but then to have that dream politicized in such a divisive manner. I rarely take the time to put myself in their shoes, but when I do, I feel great sympathy.

I hate to see religion and church maligned and misused by outside voices. Or even “insiders” who give the rest of us a bad name. I imagine it’s a similar feeling.

For a lot of the players, even the ones who support Kaepernick and the stance that he took, the scrutiny has to be obnoxious. Most of these men want to play the game that they love, support their families, and give something back to their communities. It’s got to be hard in that circumstance to then feel like you have to make a statement on behalf of your race, one that is perceived as being against your country by many. That’s not what any of these guys signed up for.

That said, I do think they should use their platform to support the things that matter to them. “With great power comes great responsibility” and all that. Speaking on public issues is a part of being a public figure, and like it or not, they are public figures.

But they’re humans. Some of them pretty young men who left college early to play a sport professionally. Some of them experiencing having money for the first time in their lives. While they should be given the same accountability as any adult, I don’t know if they deserve the levels of scrutiny they receive.

I’m sure it seems hypocritical for me to be talking about the humanity of NFL players when I seems to downplay the impacts of CTE on their lives. In light of the recent revelations about Aaron Hernandez’s brain damage, it’s hard to ignore what these men do to themselves. two things:  1) I own my hypocrisy  2) the freedom to do what we will with our lives, to pursue our passions even while knowing the risk, is part of being human. Let’s not fool ourselves, anyone who has played football at any level knows that getting hit in the head isn’t good. I’ve had my bell rung a time or two. But I’ll tell you what; even with what I know about brain injury, if I had the chance and skill to play a year at the NFL level, I would in a heartbeat. I’m sure there are some for whom I will never be able to explain that.

When it comes to the humans behind the game, I think it is important to go back to the man who has had such an incredible impact on me this year, Mr. Colin Kaepernick. I would strongly encourage you all to read GQ’s “citizen of the year” story on him. He really is a remarkable man who has had an influence far beyond the football field and the photography is gorgeous, especially where Kaep is pictured with children. He broke his silence for his interview with GQ because he wanted to “reclaim the narrative of his protest, which has been hijacked by a president eager to make this moment about himself”. The article reminds us the history of activism within the sports world and demonstrates the widespread impact that Kaepernick’s influence has had on popular culture, the media, sports, and politics.

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Athletes in our culture have an incredible opportunity to make social change because they are human. They bleed as we bleed, love as we love, and face loss as we lose. Harry Belefonte sums it well for GQ. “any person with a high profile has to consider their responsibility to help keep the nation honorable and honest. After all the courageous things that have been done by so many courageous people, it’s a cop-out to not speak up”.

Amen.

https://www.patreon.com/derricklweston

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