by Kent Sterling
We can’t protect ourselves or our kids with bubble wrap or absolutely ensure safety. No matter our diet, destructive habits, exercise regimen, or risk threshold of our jobs, people get old, sick, and finally die.
How it happens is rarely up to us, but we can decide what challenges and validates us – at least in our own minds. And we can encourage it in our children, family, and friends.
Obsolescence happens in every sport, just as it does in life – even golf and bowling. Excellence is fleeting, but the loss of excellence is no reason to abdicate efforts in its pursuit.
With most sports the degradation of physical talent means a return to normal life, and long recitations of magical moments where magic was routine, and recovery came in hours instead of days.
Professional football players aren’t just a living poetic microcosm of a life lived on the very ragged edge of sanity. They knowingly risk everything for the rush of competition and moments spent in the bosom of a brotherhood.
We watch the great ones explode into prominence with speed, strength, grace and precision, and then we see them exit stage left after a debilitating injury or as the gifts that separate them from us normal folks erode.
Some enjoy productive lives beyond football, and others recede into CTE driven dementia and madness. Depression is a routine companion, and physical pain that is treated but never cured tell the tales of sacrifice that define careers.
The obvious risks and tragic losses doesn’t mean that football should be banned or shunned in our society. While few of us decide how we are going to die, most of us can decide how we will live, and being told not to play football tells us that the cost needs analysis scale tilts toward the negative.
All a person needs to do is sit among former football teammates, and the greatest positive of football quickly shows itself – that palpable sense of kinship that comes from personal sacrifice for the good of the whole. That’s the allure and lesson of football, and why kids playing it will continue to be a force for good throughout time.
Whether football survives our inability to see the good through the twisted wreckage of knees with surgically repaired ligaments or brains that might not remember specific moments or how to drive home anymore, it still allows those who play it to enjoy a unique experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
When the eyes of former football players meet, the bond between them is palpable. Golfers, bowlers, baseball/basketball/soccer/volleyball/hockey (etc…) players might have good stories and important friendships, but they don’t have the same tangible link that survives a lifetime.
For those who play, it’s worth it. Do you think Peyton Manning continues to sacrifice at the age of 39 after debilitating neck surgeries in order to try to continue to compete at the highest level for the money? Of course not. Did Reggie Wayne sign with the New England Patriots this preseason for the $450,000 signing bonus? Do recently retired players contemplate a comeback because of the cash? Nope and nope.
They miss the camaraderie, the love – the brotherhood.
And as we evaluate football’s role in our society, understanding the unique benefits should be a focus equal to the research being done to condemn football as too dangerous.
Getting old is unpleasant regardless of how safe people are kept throughout their youth and middle age.
All of us have an expiration date. Concentrating on the quantity of our days rather than their quality will result in a regression to the middle that renders our lives ordinary.
Peel off the bubblewrap and live life. Play.