Friday, September 14, 2012

For Bills' Marcell Dareus, Football May Be a Powerful Elixir. But a Loved One's Death Requires a Lifetime of Healing

“I find it hard to say that everything is alright. Don’t look at me that way, like everything is alright. ”

Lyric from: I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel) from the album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0: Lauryn Hill
Written By: Lauryn Hill
Performed by: Lauryn Hill

Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, photo courtesy of

On Sunday, December 25, 2005, I sat and talked with my dad about the Dallas Cowboys, the Tennessee Titans and about life in general. Less than 24 hours later, he was gone.
My father had a heart attack in his sleep and, it ended his life along with the possibility of us sitting down for a long chat ever again.
In the days that followed I went about the business of making the arrangements. I had somehow become my family’s unofficial spokesperson, grief counselor and finance manager. As my father’s biggest fan, I felt like it was my duty to be strong.
He would have wanted me to be strong.
On a Sunday night in December a couple of years earlier, Brett Farve's dad, Irvin Farve, died of a heart attack while driving near his home in Kiln, MS. The next day, Farve made his 205th consecutive start as his Green Bay Packers took on the Oakland Raiders in Oakland for Monday Night Football.
He torched the Raiders for 399 yards and four touchdowns that night.
Leading up to and during the broadcast that evening, analysts and commentators everywhere talked about how therapeutic it must have been for Farve to play in that game. They talked about how football was probably a welcome distraction for him.
After the game, Farve said that he knew his father would have wanted him to be on the field that night.
As I look back on that remarkable Monday night performance now with my own perspective on that type of bereavement, I am less apt to oversell the therapeutic benefits of that moment. And I know all too well that the distraction, though welcome, was no doubt temporary.
I am also very well aware of how quickly folks can put your loss behind them.
Yesterday the Buffalo Bills announced that 2nd year defensive tackle Marcell Dareus intends to play in their home opener this Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Dareus’ brother, Simeon Gilmore, was one of three men shot and killed this week in a triple homicide in a suburb outside of Birmingham, Alabama.
On Sunday he will be heralded for his perseverance and his courage during this unfortunate time but, in a few months many of us will possibly have forgotten that he endured this tragedy at all.
As the weeks pass this NFL season, we will think less and less about this misfortune and become more and more singularly focused on Dareus’ performance on the field. No longer protected by the hedges of our compassion, he will once again be subjected to our harshest criticisms or worse yet, off of our radars altogether.
Just last month we grieved with Andy Reid over the loss of his son during Philadelphia Eagles training camp but that ordeal is a distant memory now as all talk has turned to whether or not that team is a dynasty, whether Michael Vick will finish the season and whether or not Reid is still the man for the job.
As it turns out, despite what I’m sure are our best intentions to the contrary, our sympathies often ring temporary as well.
The fact is that long after the headlines have changed, the painful void left behind by a loved one’s death will remain.
It is an experience after which one’s life is never the same.
I will be rooting for Marcell Dareus on Sunday but, mostly, I will be praying that in the days and years that follow that he will be patient with himself as he adjusts to his sorrowfully altered life.
His time on the field Sunday will hopefully be the distraction he needs. The strength he demonstrates in the difficult times ahead will be exactly what his family needs as they start the healing process.
All likely just what his brother would have wanted.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jason Witten Decided to Play But, Was Fear the Deciding Factor

“I do not understand what it is I’ve done wrong. Full of holes, check the pulse. Blink your eyes one for yes two for no. I’ve no idea what I’m talking about. I’m trapped in this body and can’t get out.”

Lyric from: Bodysnatchers from the In Rainbows
Written By: Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway and Thom Yorke
Performed by: Radiohead

Photo courtesy of

A little while ago during a chat with one of my absolute favorite people in the world, I learned that he almost never takes any time off from work-rarely a vacation day and absolutely no sick days at all.
I knew instantly that his perfect attendance could only be driven by one of two very opposite motivating forces, love for the job or fear of losing it.
Apparently, he had been trained to deny himself these little breaks from the workplace in a retail position he held a few years back where a day off often necessitated a new job search.
And there was my answer.
I thought of my friend and his fear inspired decision making last night when Jason Witten took the field for the Dallas Cowboys in their season opener against the New York Giants.
Witten, who suffered a lacerated spleen in a preseason game was initially listed as a game time decision and depending on who you ask, in his haste to make that decision a little easier for team officials, was willing to sign a waiver relieving the Cowboys of any liability if he re-aggravated the injury or maybe worse yet, died, as a result of his play. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported the story yesterday morning but the Cowboys have since said that they were unaware of any waiver.
All that said, at game time Witten took the field.
Thankfully he finished the game unharmed with two receptions for 10 yards as the Cowboys defeated the Giants 24-17.
It’s hard to imagine an NFL player being afraid of anything. In fact, most of us would describe what they do week to week as the exact opposite of fear.
Listen, any 200-300 plus-pound specimen that runs full speed into another 200-300 plus-pound specimen to finance their livelihood is definitely a tough guy in my book. But in matters of injury, there’s often a thin line between tough and foolish.
Our favorite quotes about fear advise us that we should always do what we are afraid to do and that fear is an impetus to stand up and strike. But the lesser referenced passages regarding the condition warn us that our fear of loss is nothing more than our attachment to the present and our foolish aversion to change.
After an offseason filled with talk of Bountygate and concussion lawsuits, one is left to conclude that the National Football League is a workplace that flourishes best with a culture of fear.
A coach gives what is now considered an insensitive and dangerous pregame speech in which he inspires his players to make a name for themselves by sending their opponent off the field on a cart. Guys get their bells rung and lie to go back into the game even though each concussion brings them closer to a serious brain injury and a lifetime of foggy memories and the haze of depression.
But the risk/reward calculations of those examples can more easily be waved off as consequences to be faced down the line.
 Jason Whitten was willing to endure a very immediate risk last night.
Whatever the consequence, our dearly loved NFL players usually highlight their camaraderie and blue-collar approach to teamwork as the driving force behind their willingness to take the field at all cost.
There are other incentives at play here, however. The details of which can be found in any NFL contract or in the biological clock that seems to wind down so expeditiously on every respective NFL career.
In spite of everything there seems to be no greater motivation for these NFL players than the fear of losing it all right now-their starting spot, their money, their fame and maybe even their relevance.
Otherwise guys might think a little less about holding on for dear life to the present and more about their quality of life down the line.