Another week in the NFL. Another tragic death. Another reaffirmation of a culture of “play on.”
Last week it was the Kansas City Chief’s Javon Belcher who shot himself in front of his coach. This week it’s the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Brown. Brown was the passenger in teammate Josh Brent’s car, when Brent lost control, wrecked his car, killing Brown – who just announced a couple days ago that he’s a father-to-be.
Brent, who survived the crash with a couple cuts and bruises, is being charged with “intoxication manslaughter.” The crash happened Saturday, effectively destroying the lives of two young men.
On Sunday (the day after the crash), the Cowboys, like the Kansas City Chiefs a week before, decided to play their game against the Cincinnati Bengals. And like the Chiefs, the Cowboys won.
This from the head coach of the Cowboys after they beat the Bengals:
I’m very proud of our football team. Somehow, someway they did find a way to channel the emotion that we had. I think there was a feeling of numbness out on the field today but somehow they focused it and we figured out a way to win this ballgame. I thought we honored him as well as he could be honored. This is a day I’m never going to forget. Its’ a tragic day for all of us. I’m never going to forget how this football team came together and honored Jerry Brown and his family. We’ll continue to mourn his loss. We’ll continue to miss him, and we’ll never forget about him.
It’s obvious that – like the Chief’s players and coaches – the Cowboys are mourning the loss of Brown. And it seems obvious that – like the Chiefs – the Cowboys saw that they honored Brown by playing and by winning.
This style of grieving is important to note, as it is distinctly what psychologists have termed an “instrumental grieving style.” This “instrumental grieving style” is generally attributed to the style that men choose to use. Most (not all) men tend to
One. suppress their emotional responses,
Two. hide their vulnerability,
Three. focus on thinking (as opposed to feeling) about the loss,
Four. seek to solve practice problem via engaging in physical activity
Five. immerse themselves in work. (Martin and Doka)
The other type of grieving style (intuitive) is where the person learns to express their emotions and reach out for help. The intuitive style has traditionally been seen as the conventional norm for grieving, where the “instrumental style” has been downplayed as improper and incorrect.
The fact is that different people have different styles of grieving and both styles can come with their own forms of complication. A person using an intuitive style can just as easily bury themselves in their emotional life as a person using the instrumental style can bury themselves in their work life.
Traditionally, the instrumental style of grief (usually practiced by men) has been belittled. But, it’s not wrong per se. In fact, it’s the way many grieve. And it’s okay.
What’s wrong is the culture of the NFL that is so predominately male that there’s little to no pause from work. There is no pause. There’s just an attitude of “play on.” An attitude that sees “winning” and “playing” as nearly synonymous with “honoring.” A culture that would rather play the game than allow for a pause and send a message that “drinking and driving is dead wrong” … that “even the athletes of the NFL aren’t impervious to bad choices.”
It’s okay that the players and coaches what to honor their deceased friend with their work. What’s not okay is that the NFL let the game go on the very next day. The NFL might be a case study in “masculine grief”, but it’s also a case study in money and sport over life and death.
Football is an American idol. It’s a power that’s put in an improper place in the minds of Americans. At no time has the idolatry been more pronounced than this past Sunday.
Javon Belcher played his college ball at the small University of Maine. He went undrafted in the 2009 NFL draft, but was eventually signed by the Kansas City Chiefs and in 2010 he started as an inside linebacker, producing his best year in 2011.
In football, there’s players who are considered “character guys”, which essentially means that although they might lack in talent, they make up for it in their willingness to learn from their coaches and in their solid off the field reputation. Javon Belcher was described as a “character guy”. He had a supportive family, was a proud father to his 3 month old daughter and was described as a genuine person.
This past Saturday, December 1st, Javon murdered his girlfriend (and mother of his child), 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins. He then went to the Chiefs stadium, thanked the Chief’s GM, Head Coach and other personnel for the opportunity they had given him and shot himself in front of them. The coach tried to convince Belcher to stop, but the coach acknowledged that he failed to do so.
He didn’t take the time to apologize to his daughter for making her an orphan. No, he thanked the football gods.
The powers that be discussed the possibility of postponing the Chiefs game on Sunday against the Caroline Panthers. From the Miami Herald:
A league official said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with both DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL Players Association, and Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt.
Neither the union nor the Chiefs, after Crennel spoke with team captains, objected to the game being played as scheduled. The possibility of a postponement was discussed, but none of the parties thought that to be appropriate.
The hot topic for NFL Commissioner Goodell wasn’t when the grief counselors could meet with the team, it wasn’t how the Chiefs could start the mourning process and how the NFL could encourage proper services. No, they thought it would be inappropriate to cancel the game. I mean a guy ONLY shot himself infront of his coach. He ONLY just killed his girlfriend.
Already, the quarterback of the Chiefs is questioning himself. After the game, Brady Quinn talked about his thoughts:
“It’s hard mostly because I keep thinking about what I could have done to stop this. I think everyone is wondering whether we would have done something to prevent this from happening. And then we’re all thinking about his daughter, three or four months old and without a parent. It’s hard to not allow the emotions of the situation to creep into your head with the game this close. But we’re going to do the best we can to concentrate on the task at hand.”
The players are doing the best they can to ignore their emotions so that they can concentrate on the task at hand? This is why they should have postponed the game.
But they didn’t. This from Sportsillustrated:
“As far as playing the game, I thought that was the best for us to do, because that’s what we do,” Crennel said, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “We’re football players and football coaches and that’s what we do, we play on Sunday.”
“We’re football players” says Crennel. Apparently that means that they’re not human. They’re better at hitting people than they are at dealing with loss, love, violence, emotions.
The NFL could’ve used this opportunity to pause, postpone the game and allow for the much needed discussion about suicide and domestic violence to ensue. Sure, postponing the game might have angered the Networks, but that’s the idea. Instead of all the commentators and pundits talking about how the Chiefs won the game over the Panthers, they’d be talking about the pause; they’d be keenly reflecting on the tragedy.
If the game was postponed, this is the message that would have followed: “Suicide and domestic violence, life and death are more important than football.”
The NFL isn’t the only part of American society that doesn’t give a pause for death. Death is simply too much of an inconvenience for us. We’re so set on building our gods … building ourselves into a god, that we remove anything that reminds us of our humanity. The NFL is a microcosm of American life. We’re so intent on building the dream, that we like to ignore reality.
I see this “ignorance” all the time at the funeral home.
“Johnny can’t make grandpa’s funeral … he has finals.”
“Let’s push Dad’s funeral to next Saturday … I have a big business meeting this week.”
“So and so can’t make grandma’s funeral … he’s got a lot going on.”
We’re too busy with school to give a pause. Too busy with work to give a pause. Too busy with our Facebook feed to give a pause. Too busy with OUR lives that we forget about the lives of others.
Hockey is a violent sport.
And in some respects, it’s inaccessible for many. Unlike baseball and certain positions in football, the physicality of hockey limits it to a rather small population with large athletic ability.
Not to mention (unlike soccer and basketball) that VERY few public schools in the US have a hockey team and so those who do play not only need some ability, but their parents need some economic backing as the starting price of this sport (once you consider all the gear and joining a league) is higher than just about any other sport.
Yet even with those factors, you have to have some sort of physically competitive streak. Hockey isn’t golf. You can be healthy and wealthy, but if you aren’t willing to hit and be hit, you’re not cut out to be a hockey player, yet along a hockey fan.
It is, in many respects one of the more intrinsically marginalizing and exclusive sports.
The Demons of a Few
Since May of this year, the international hockey world, though, has taken some very violent hits.
Three “enforcers” (guys who are paid to send a message to the other teams through nasty hits and checks), have recently died from self-inflicted wounds.
Wade Belak, 35, twelve year NHL player, husband, father to two young girls and soon to be color commentator hung himself at his luxury apartment this past Wednesday.
Rick Rypien, 27, lost his battle to depression when he took his own life in mid August. Rick was set to play for the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.
Derek Boogaard, 28, died in May. His death was ruled as an accidental overdose to alcohol and oxycodone.
Some enforcers suffer from what many describe as “demons.” A plague of the mind that eats away at sanity.
Doctors suggest that these “demons” are caused from the violence of hockey and the abnormal violence suffered by the enforcers, who’s heads are knocked around too often for their own good, often causing undiagnosed concussions, and eventually causing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE for short).
Dr. Robert Cantu, an esteemed neurosurgeon, stated,
“We’ll never know with any certainty when someone commits suicide whether CTE played a role. We do know CTE attacks the portion of the brain that controls functions of memory, emotion, addictive behavior and impulse control, the latter associated with suicide. And so we’re clear, in some cases the people involved may well have had emotional issues before its onset. But every time I read or hear about these tragedies, my first question is, ‘Did CTE play a role?’
It’s almost ironic that such a privileged group of humanity would be plagued by demons. Men of physical stature. Men of wealth. The men of men. Brought to their death, not by anybody else’s hand but by their own. Men, who few could dominate physically, overcome by weakness and damage of their mind.
The Demon of the Many
Perhaps the greatest hit sustained to the international hockey world was felt this past Wednesday, September 7th in Russia when a plane carrying an entire European professional hockey team clipped a beacon antenna on takeoff and crashed 500 yards from the runway, killing all of the 45 passengers, save two.
I hate flying. I hate not being in control. I hate the thought of falling some 30 plus thousand feet … the questions of “how long would I be conscious?” I don’t mind death, but anxiety … that’s a killer.
At least these guys had it short.
And it’s amazing, based on the photos, that the two survivors even had a chance.
This wasn’t a flight full of random people whose communities where spread far and wide. This was a hockey team. A group of people entrenched in the hockey community. This wasn’t the loss of a friend … this was the loss of many friends. This wasn’t the the loss of a person from a specific community … it was the loss of a whole segment of a community.
And tragedies like this can scar an entire community.
It’s the way they died. It’s the fact nobody was able to say their good-byes.
It’s the sudden, slap in the face, “not only is such and such friend dead, but so and so, and so and so … etc., etc., etc., etc. are gone as well.
It’s more like a sudden 36 quick slaps in the face. A demon that can destroy the mind, the soul and the body.
The Demon of the One
And then there was one. One Alexander Galimov who lives, but in a grave condition with 80% of his body burned.
Imagine being that one guy left alive. Would you want to be THE ONLY ONE? What would you say to the families of your lost teammates? How would you answer their questions? How would you answer your own questions?
If you were Alexander, would you be fighting for your life right now or would you just rather join in the travesty with your teammates?
In any large scale tragedy, you see this.
In 9/11 we saw it. People asking, “Why me? I should have ….”
In war we see it.
In earthquakes, tornados, etc., the question / feeling of “I’m alive. Everyone else is dead. Who’s the lucky one?” is a demon of a whole different class.
It’s a demon that begs for legitimization. Of “earning this” … of “proving to myself.”
It’s that whole “Saving Private Ryan” weight. The weight that Captain Miller places around Ryan’s neck. The weight of “earn this.” The weight of being the last survivor. Being the last one standing isn’t all it’s made out to be. Being the last one comes with the plaguing need for affirmation … the “tell me I’m a good man.”
And really, in one way or another, we can all ask such question. In one way or another, we live off another’s sacrifice.
And I think the only right response … the response that can cast out the demons … is seeing life as a gift and responding, not in an “I’m going to pay it back” attitude, but in gratitude … gratitude for life.
I’m praying for Alexander. I’m praying that if he survives, that he’d also find a way to live.
Josh Hamilton, outfielder for the Texas Rangers, has a great redemption story. A number one draft pick in Major League Baseball’s 1999 draft, Hamilton was projected to be great. And he was heading toward greatness until drug and alcohol addiction earned him a couple suspensions in baseball and eventually put him out of the game from 2004 to 2006.
Somewhere in that time he met Jesus in a real way, surrounded himself with community and both his life and career were reborn, eventually resulting in the 2010 MVP award as he carried his team all the way to the World Series. Even his teammates respected him when they forewent the post-game AL Championship celebration champagne and substituted ginger ale in it’s place so Josh could join in on the jubilation.
All this … the MVP, the World Series, the love of his teammates, even his book deal are a testimony to God’s goodness … right?
2011 has been an entirely different year for Hamilton. On April 12, he was on third base when the coach inadvisably sent him home despite the nearly impossibility of Hamilton scoring. Josh collided with the catcher, fractured his right humerous and went on the Disabled List for nearly a month and a half.
Then, on July 7, Hamilton and his Rangers were playing at their home field. In the sixth inning, a foul ball was hit Josh’s direction and unlike most outfielders who toss the ball into the stands for an adoring fan, Hamilton tossed it to the ball girl. When he did so, he heard a shout from the stands, “Hey, Hamilton, how bout the next one.” He looked up, saw the man that the shout came from, with the man’s Hamilton jersey clad son beside him and acknowledged them both. A couple pitches later, another foul ball came Hamilton’s way and this time, he tossed it short to the man, who reached for it, fell over a railing, landed on his head and died eight hours later.
Hamilton said the sound of young Conor Jackson screaming as he watched his dad, firefighter, Shannon Stone falling still echoes in his mind. Apparently Shannon was still conscious when paramedics arrived. And the first thing Shannon told them was that his son, Conor, was “up there by himself”; a statement that unfortunately had a double meaning as today his son is fatherless.
So, what? Is Hamilton now cursed by Satan?
Another baseball player suggests a third option: maybe God is using bad for good purposes. The New York Met’s outfielder Angel Pagan (who has possibly one of most Lutheran names possible) stated,
“Only God knows why that happened and the purpose of it.”
It seems Pagan is suggesting God’s somehow behind the “accident”. Even Hamilton himself stated:
“I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. … All I can think about is praying for them and knowing that God has a plan. You don’t always know what that plan is when those things happen, but you will.”
Inexplicable rises and falls are often accredited to higher powers. Inexplicable riches and fame. Inexplicable accidents. Inexplicable deaths. The God of the gaps idea extends beyond mysteries of the mind. In science, when we can’t explain something we simply place God in the gap. When something is beyond our comprehension, we answer it with “God”.
And is it any different with life’s mysteries? When something inexplicably good happens to us … who do we credit? And to whom do we credit the bad? But, is it really God? Is it really Satan? Or is it really just an accident?
I love Josh Hamilton. I love his story and the power it has for others who struggle with drug addiction. I too hope that God has a plan for the family that lost their father … a plan for redemption. Unlike the implication in Hamilton and Pagan’s quotes, I just don’t think God ever intended it to happen.
It’s official, God’s Gift Aciuwa, the Nigerian basketball player, who was rated a top 100 college prospect by most scouting and recruiting services, declared his intent to play for St. Johns College on Thursday, April 28th, 2011.
Apparently, his decision was made on Easter of this year, but he didn’t sign his letter of intent until last Thursday. God’s Gift is a 6-foot-9, 240 pound forward who may play the four or holy seven spot for St. Johns.
Said his former coach:
“He’s a good leader who leads by example. The first one in the gym and the last one out,” Coach Nwora said, praising Achiuwa. “He’s a good kid, always makes eye contact, [and] he’s very coach-able.”
Although the following quote hasn’t been verified as infallible, Jesus is quoted as stating that, “I wanted to give St. Johns a strong presence in the heart of their middle, so I gave them God’s Gift. They deserve him.” Apparently, Jesus then went on to ramble about distinctions between how a gift from God isn’t deserved and can’t be earned, so technically God’s Gift isn’t a gift per se, but a right for St. Johns because they named their college after John the Apostle, who was Jesus’ favorite disciple.
According to the Wall Street Journal, God’s Gift is the son of a Nigerian pastor who has named all of his children after religious themes.
I bet Nicolas Cage and Charlie Sheen are going to sue this kid for brand infringement.
Finally, if we’re allowed to name our kids after biblical concepts, I could name my daughter, “Irresistible Grace.” She could star in a Calvinist romance movie, based on the novel to the right. The byline is classic, “Your name must be Grace cause you’re irresistible.”
Any other Bible terms or concepts that would make great names?