In a flash, he grabbed me by my metal mask and pulled my head-filled helmet towards his beat red face. As he looked into my eyes, I started pondering the aggressive nature of this sport and how it makes those who are leading and not playing into even angrier specimens than it does to us who are actually on the field. I mentally prepared to receive the information that I would relay to my huddled teammates. My thoughts raced to my family up in the stands. Raced to the images of my brother, the linebacker and captain of his team, making a big tackle to win the game. Raced to my inability to do anything well. It’s amazing how long moments like these drag on when you take a second to think back to the situation.
I fully expected a play-call like 34 Iso or 28 Dash, which were both running plays. We were on the one yard line of a wet and mud-riddled grass field and there was no way our coach trusted the little guy playing third-string quarterback to sling it to me at wide receiver – and no way he trusted me to catch the football. But, after staring into my eyes for an uncomfortable amount of time, he whispered “50 Quick” through the metal shield and into my ear. Immediately, I turned away and started sprinting towards my squadron, who were anxiously awaiting my arrival just a yard from a touch down.
‘Thank God he called a run,’ I thought to myself as I jogged slow-motion-like across the field. ‘Hey, no he didn’t you twat,’ my conscience reminded me as I almost spoke the words of one of our common run plays. ‘We run the ball 85% of the time and I get maybe five plays per game and yet, this asshole calls a pass to me? To ME?’ I began arguing in my head, deciding if should tell them the real call, or just make something up.
When I came to, I noticed that there were ten boys wearing black and gold, mud-stained uniforms staring at me like a girl who had just walked into our all-boys high school. Just ten yards away, our opponent’s bright red jerseys contrasted with ours, though the mud splattering added a nice level of unison between teams in a sport in which the main goal is to kill each other.
“What’s the play you idiot?” Matt #2, the tiny quarterback asked me dearly.
“Uh, uhhh, he called 50 Quick,” I responded with great confidence.
Silence. Stunned faces. “Well, shit, alright, BREAK!!!”
The eleven of us lined up. It was late in the season and we were down a touchdown to the best team on our schedule late in the game. The weather was cold and rainy on the field at McQuaid Jesuit that day and the first and second string teams hadn’t played well, meaning that myself on third string was actually in a game on the line. And the coach picked a damn pass play on fourth down to me!?!
Once I left the huddle it was over pretty quick, quicker than everything else had gone by at least. Matt #2 called “HIKE” and our center snapped the ball. I took two steps into the end zone, then stutter-stepped, turned towards my quarterback and hopped back a yard to my right. The ball wiggled around in the air as it made its way towards my face. I reached my hands out, thinking to myself, ‘Holy shit, this might actually work.’ It didn’t.
The ball went straight through my fingertips, hit me directly in the face-mask and bounced dishearteningly to the grass as the red cornerback laid into me, doubling my sense of failure. After the whistle blew and the defender picked himself up off of me to celebrate with his teammates, I lay defeated in the mud. My teammates all walked towards our sideline as I lay there, knowing I had blown my only chance to score a touchdown. It was then that I made a promise to myself that if I was ever given an opportunity, I would give it everything my heart could produce.
It’s been ten years since I wrote that story about a middle school football game in which I played and ultimately realized that football wasn’t for me. It turned out that the sports avenue didn’t work out for me (at least not with me on the field). I didn’t give it all that I had and I didn’t keep the promise to myself about running with every opportunity that came my way. In fact, my next few years were spent in a hermit-like, depressive state in which I just wished that I was more athletic and in better shape, without wanting to work and make the changes for myself. After high school, I rediscovered my love for sport. Majoring in Sport Management at the University of Dayton reinvented my belief in the power of sport for good.
Now I will not lie, I learned plenty about the negative aspect of sports as well; the divisiveness, the outdated traditions, the unequal access to sport, the corruptness of major sport corporations. There’s plenty of bad in sport just as there is bad in any other topic in this world. It’s the human nature of sport that brings both its beauty and its ugliness. But one thing that cannot be negated is that sport absolutely brings people together. People of all backgrounds, racial, ethnic, economic and social are able to take solace in a simple game of pepper with a soccer ball, HORSE on the basketball court, or hitting in the batting cages, lacing up the skates, strapping on the skis, whatever your flavor, you name it.
Because of sports we have incredible stories, like Pat Tillman forgoing a lucrative career to fight for his country, the Williams sisters bolstering themselves from a rough neighborhood and becoming world-renowned athletes thanks in part to a dedicated father, or Jesse Owens looking Hitler’s evil directly in the face and standing tall. That’s not to mention the tons of global and local foundations and tournaments that bring people together annually in order to support great causes. There are also countless examples of sports events that connected people following tragedies. What comes to mind for me is the New York Yankees and the 2001 World Series. An organization that is generally despised among baseball fans responded to a rallying cry from the entire nation by winning three straight games at home to ignite a torn-apart city of New York in the aftermath of 9/11.
On the contrary, sports are also tied to infamous events throughout history. No doubt about it, the human nature of sports is what creates these earth-shattering moments in the same manner in which they create the lifting moments listed previously. For some examples we have Russia cheating in the Olympics, a plethora of current NCAA schools becoming exposed in the illegal recruiting atmosphere, and sick men who took advantage of embarrassingly lackadaisical athletic situations such as Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky. Human nature for some is to destroy things, so it only makes sense that some of this destruction is going to find its way into sports.
Today, in 2018, an exciting time for discussing sports and the ways in which it affects and is affected by various media entities and societal cultures throughout the world is upon us. As technology continues to be improved upon and implemented in sport and as an increasing number of athletes begin using their voice as a tool for social change, the media world has never had more stones to turn over, more mossy abysses to dissect. There is so much substance in the sports world and so many intersections with other entities and subjects.
The debates could rage on forever: Is the National Anthem and the American Flag an appropriate time and tool, respectively, to use as a form of protest? Should NCAA student-athletes who are partially responsible for bringing in huge amounts of revenue for their schools be allowed to receive income for their roles? Do you take Michael or Lebron with your first pick? It is issues such as these ones that define the importance of the sports world in a greater sense of our society. Oh, and also, sports just help make life a little more fun and exciting – a couple things that everyone could use.
It is issues such as these ones that deserve our attention; issues and stories that need to be explored and expounded upon for the purpose of finding the underlying human lessons and challenges that can bring people together. From here on out, I will be devoting my life to undertaking these expeditions that must be a key to finding life’s true purpose. Well, probably not, but I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.