There is nowhere on this lowly planet I’d rather be than under the lights. I love the scent of freshly churned turf, streaks of paint on white jerseys, the rhythm and snap of snare drums. I love football.
Ya’ll have heard my passion for sports, before. I’ve been both a fan and participant. I participated in basketball and softball, with a short run in cheerleading (because, let’s face it, cheering was the only way I would ever legally be on a football field). My sisters played volleyball, basketball, and softball. My brothers played baseball, basketball, and football. Right now, I have six nieces, seven nephews, and my own son competitively engaged in sanctioned sports.
If you are a fellow sports junkie, you likely remember a few notorious, even career ending, injuries. The injuries we remember best are the ones that have been splayed all over the television and internet. Prothro, Lattimore, Theismann… Like a train wreck, it’s hard not to watch… Today, at least one more gruesome injury makes my list. Kenyan Drake’s screams could be heard in the press box, even over the mindless prattling of Vern and Gary.
Self discipline is the very first goal in training an athlete. Elite, lifelong athletes are taught to shake it off. Walk it off. Shrug it off. For an athlete competing at the D1 level to cry in pain, scream from pain… physical pain, the most visceral and primitive of human expressions, is testament to the severity of his injury.
So what’s my gripe? My concern isn’t really with the injury stats, themselves. My disappointment is with the media, coaches, opposing teams, fans, and sports parents that continue to show such callous disregard for injured players on a personal level. When there’s a kid lying on the turf, does it really matter which color he’s wearing? It shouldn’t.
If you need “elite” examples, I’ve got em.
Tyrone Prothro was a dynamic and versatile star for the Tide before one fateful play dashed his football dream, while simultaneously dashing both tibia and fibula. But, put yourself inside the mind of Prothro’s mama. Maybe she was sitting right next to a fan who had been trying his best, verbally, to take her boy out. Because he was just that good. When Tyrone crumpled onto the field, Mr. Gator cheered.
Marcus Lattimore suffered a severe knee injury playing under The Ole Ball Coach at South Carolina. His initial injury occured in front of a crowd of Mississippi State fans, effectively ending what could’ve been a Heisman winning season. MSU fans notoriously took to social media to gloat and boast over “answered prayers” ending Marcus’ season. Lattimore was able to successfully rehab and return to play, the following season. Ironically, he suffered a second knee injury playing against Tennessee in Knoxville. The difference? The Tennessee crowd prayed for Lattimore, his team, and his family, and showed their support as Lattimore was again carted away. Marcus Lattimore was again successful in rehab and was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.
But if we truly must be hung up on jersey color, here’s one for my counterparts in orange and blue: Zac Etheridge. Etheridge remembers very well playing against an Ole Miss squad in 2009. If the player Etheridge was trying to bring down was as heartless as some players and fans today, Etheridge likely wouldn’t have played again. He may not have survived at all. He lay motionless on top of his opponent, listening to the whispered prayers from beneath the helmet of Rodney Scott. Scott, too, remained motionless on the field, waiting for Zac to be stabilized and transported, while knowing any movement could further devastate the young Auburn safety. Etheridge defied all odds with grace and determination, and returned to compete the following season.
Now, back to us more common folk. Most kids are not D1 material. Not athletically, anyway. I think of a young nurse I worked with several years ago. Her son was a star on the gridiron. She’d been grooming her boy since he was three years old to be a star; he didn’t disappoint. We were in the land of Friday Night Lights, and on one of those Fridays, Big Nic took a sack, his head bouncing off the turf. The visitor’s stands erupted in cheers when he didn’t get up. The player credited with the sack was still jumping around in celebration when Nic’s mama made it to the field, and kicked a chunk of turf in Nic’s direction before he turned and walked off the field. Nic never got up. Still, the visitors cheered. 3,000 people in a stadium full of dust, and half of them thought it was great that the “big guy” wouldn’t be keeping them from the playoffs.
Then, two seasons ago, I was carrying on with another friend of mine, another rival fan- trust me, there’s never a shortage. The topic, though, wasn’t our college rivalry, it was middle school football. His son was on the field when a player, a thirteen year old, on the opposing team was hurt during play. The young man’s injury was severe enough to warrant an ambulance transport. My reaction was to pray. My friend’s reaction was, “That’s just football. He knew the risk, and so did his parents.”
I found his lack of concern appalling. I still do.
And this week, my favorite sport lost three of its future recruits. Not to injuries, but to death. Death is not a condition that we can rehab.
Try to remember, when you are cheering on your favorite team, that every one of those athletes is someone’s child, brother, auntie, or niece. They probably aren’t yours, but on the next play, they very well could be. How will you feel after you’ve watched your son make that play? The one that saves the game, but ends a season? More importantly, how will your SON feel? I pray for mine. And I pray for yours. And, yes, I pray for both of us, as Christian sports parents, that we will always be mindful to keep competition in perspective. They are just children. It is just a game. And that’s just football.
Be blessed, Y’all.
~ for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. ~
1 Timothy 4:8