As a young man, I was an avid football fan and got to have a place in the stadium closer than the premier seats on the 50 yard line: I got to run up and down the field! In high school, I was a Golden Eagle and then I graduated and became a fighting bulldog: Linebacker, SEC, Mississippi State University.
In the summer of 1966, I was working out with the players at Jacksonville State University located in my hometown. I was offered a full scholarship to come home to JSU and after laying eyes on Patti Brown, a ballerina with the Marching Southerners Band, I felt highly motivated and inspired to sign and I officially became a Gamecock. Of course, my converting from a dog to a chicken had nothing to do with the beauty queen who later became my wife and mother of our children!
Today, I’m honored to be a lifetime, card carrying member of the elite “J” Club. Those were great years shared with great friends and I have no regrets or complaints even though the physical pain intensifies and I become a little more crippled with each passing day. I had all the test run to see if modern medical science could help.
The neurosurgeon clamped the MRI film to the lighted board on the wall and with his pencil pointed out the shriveled, herniated disks, some literally driven into the bone, cleared his throat and stoically commented: “This is irreparable. Some fool used your spine as a batting ram!”
While in college, I personally experienced the “dark” side of the gridiron, including a dear friend named Johnny who died from a head injury doing repeated head on tackles in practice. I wasn’t on the field that day but I have vivid memories of some of the coaches who would not let up, screaming and pitching temper tantrums, driving young men to savagely attack and hurt each other.
The coaching profession has such a powerful influence in our culture for good or for bad. There are coaches who are powerful, positive role models helping change lives for the better. They are worthy of respect, honor and admiration. Yet, I still wonder sometimes, “What did Johnny die for?”
For years, I was very hurt, judgmental, even angry at the sport but I met the Lord and began to recall the many positive lessons of life learned: team work, discipline, never give up, win with dignity and lose with dignity, fellowship and bonding with family and friends, it’s not a sin to have fun, the lessons go on and on. And I’ll always be grateful for our coaches who cared more about the players than their own careers.
Over time, I was personally healed and able to attend the games again and even cheer with the cheerleaders. I even got to coach the defense for Jacksonville Christian Academy when our son Marty played. We had such a great time but the dark side raised it’s ugly head again when one of our young talented star players went home and blew his brains out with a shot gun because no matter how hard he tried, he could never be good enough to feed his demented dad’s ego.
Patti and I were walking thru the ruins in Rome, Italy recently. As we visited the remains of the huge Roman Coliseum I had a strange experience. It was like going back in time and mingling with the thousands of spectators 2000 years ago, fans who were oblivious to the road of destruction they were on. And when I read of Saint Telemachus, I knew I had to write the enclosed article. Just maybe we will wake up and learn from history. Maybe not. We usually don’t. It’s a very personal choice.
We have so many friends who are sports fans and even coaches, so I had some reservations about sharing the following article, knowing it could very likely be misunderstood. There’s already been some negative feedback but I’m also seeing others read it and awaken, experience a new birth, get things in perspective, and realize how insignificant the passing superficial glory of this world really is. How foolish it is to build our lives on that which is passing away!
We’re all on the Titanic, so to speak, and we’re all going under with it; the rich on the top floor, the poor on the bottom, the middle class in between. In just a few days, whether in Heaven or Hell, each and everyone will agree with all the deceased superstars and legends that have gone before, including Bear Bryant:
“Absolutely nothing matters except the Kingdom of our Lord that endures forever and ever!”
The donkey riding, dirty foot washing, Palestinian, outcast Jew has the audacity to say, “Your riches and your reputation is rapidly vanishing away. Your philosophies, college degrees, number one teams and pedigrees won’t mean a thing one day soon. Your religious rituals and regulations are often times nothing more than white washed tombs!”
Do you hear the donkey riding, dirty foot washing Palestinian, outcast Jew softly, tenderly say to you?
“There is a Kingdom that fadeth not away. There is a Kingdom, an endless day. There is a Kingdom where every tear will be wiped away. There is a Kingdom only a prayer away.”
Offered in the love of our Lord.
In Our Father’s Arms,
2 Corinthians 4:5