The ball soared through the air, end over end, somersaulting its way into the open arms of the receiver. The kicking team chased feverishly after the ball as it headed towards its destination, with the receiving team defending the one who would be responsible for bringing the ball into play.
It was a normal kick off, one that plowed its way deep into the end zone and into the receiver’s hands. In most cases, the receiver would take a knee, or if he felt that his defenders could protect him he would bring it out onto the field, eager to gain some better position in the quest to score some points. That was not the case for this particular kick off. We all watched, many in horror and shock, others in excitement and jubilation, as the receiver tossed the ball behind him towards the referee. Why was that a problem? Because the referee hadn’t blown the ball dead nor had the receiver taken a knee. The ball was live and in the end zone, Clemson’s end zone to be exact, where a Tiger pounced on it and we were rewarded with a freebie of a touchdown.
I stood in silence as my fellow Tiger fans cheered with excitement. I watched the player on his hands and knees in the end zone, his head hanging low, and my heart broke. He was on the enemy’s team, the team we wanted to beat, the team we wanted to redeem ourselves with, but I couldn’t celebrate this touchdown. I couldn’t celebrate his pain. I couldn’t celebrate his embarrassment.
Perhaps it is because I am a mother, or maybe it’s because I’ve just matured and the game doesn’t matter to me as much as it used to, or as some would say, I’ve just become soft. Whatever the reason, I felt genuinely heartbroken as I watched this player in the end zone. When he finally rose and made his way to the sidelines, his coach was waiting for him. Words were spoken and the player took it, whether it be because he felt like someone should berate him for his own mistake or because he was still in shock over his goof up. I didn’t see the point after attempt. I didn’t see the celebration from my Tigers. All I could see was this young man and in him I saw one of my sons, and my heart broke even more.
How many of us have been there? Not a one of you can say you haven’t! We’ve all made mistakes, bone headed decisions, committed acts that were detrimental to not just us, but those who were and are depending on us. In most cases, we do them in front of a few people, not a national stage with nearly 60,000 live fans, with thousands more at home. If the fans at home were anything like the ones surrounding me in the stadium, then there was no mercy. I heard this poor kid laughed at, made fun of, and name called for what truly was a mistake. He was treated in a way that I can honestly say I hope I’ve never been a part of.
I continued to watch this kid and I couldn’t wonder if he were like me, continuously dwelling upon mistakes. Would he be able to shake it off and keep going? Would he file it into the never spaces of his brain, hiding it away never to show its ugly head again? Would he use it as determination to regain some of what he and his team had lost? He kept going, but whether he shook it off, I don’t know. His entire team seemed to have taken the fumble hard, almost looking as if the life had been sucked from them and I wondered how many of his teammates were ostracizing him. I wanted to go out on the field, clad in all of my orange and purple and hug the kid. I wanted to tell him to not let this moment define his performance in the game. I wanted to tell him to shut it all out, to drown out the noise from the crowd. I wanted to tell him that it wasn’t the end of the world, which I knew he knew, but at that moment in time, I’m sure his world was crumbling.
I’ve listened to some of the sportscaster laugh at him. I’ve watched as they’ve replayed the fumble over and over, attempting to offer some new creative and comedic take on it. I’ve listened as they, and some of my fellow Clemson fans, treated this kid as if he’s the only one in this world to ever make a mistake. I’ve wanted to take these same people and put them in instances parallel to this young man’s and see how they would feel. Would they be able to hold their heads high and continue on with the game or would they simply tuck tail and run? I’m ashamed of these people and I’m ashamed of my fellow fans who went beyond basic celebration of a touchdown and took it to a whole new level of demeaning a kid’s spirit.
How would I react if I were in his shoes? That thought crossed my head and I can tell you, not well. I have a self-deprecating personality. When I let people down who are depending on me, I don’t bounce back as quickly as I should. That doesn’t sound like a good role model for my kids, but I am who I am. For me, I continue to relive my mistakes over and over, as if it’s a looping projection in my brain. Mistakes I’ve made in the past, I’ve allowed them to consume me, and much like I hope that my sons don’t have my personality in this respect, I hope this young man is also, indeed my opposite
So, to close this post, I want to shame all of you, Clemson and SC State fans alike, sportscasters and fellow fans of college football, who through your words and actions have in one way or another sought to tear down this kid’s spirit, regardless of whether your words or actions have directly impacted him. It’s a game. He’s a kid. He’s human and not immune to making mistakes. I’m praying for this kid and his team. I pray that God finds a way to use this to not just help this kid, but everyone else. I certainly hope this kid has a redeeming season and I genuinely want to apologize for the human race and how poorly he was treated for being nothing more than human.