Of greener grass and lost dreams...

May 18, 2012 chris
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By David Williams

He could throw a football 50 yards while kneeling on one knee. He ran a 4.3 second 40-yard dash. He was the pride of his high school, a hometown hero and the hope of his family. He was also one of my best friends and my college roommate. He was going to go pro and buy his mother a house.

He failed miserable short of those goals and dreams, and just like Junior Seau, my friend took his own life. And much like the case with 12-time Pro Bowler Junior Seau, I never imagined that he would do something like that. 

Today’s athletes are modern-day gladiators. Our hunger for all things sports is insatiable. What starts out as a game we played for lunch money during our youth can quickly become an all-consuming entity. The better you play, the more praise you receive. The more praise you receive, the better you want to play. 

Life begins to imitate sports, and so the cycle grows until to the two are inseparable.

A.E. Housman describes it best in his poem, To An Athlete Dying Young:

The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

One only has to watch the post-game celebrations to understand that passage. Who doesn’t want to be a part of a championship? Who would not like to stand at center stage and hold that trophy in your hands while the world envies you and rejoices with you. It is victorious moments like these that are frozen in our minds that make it so tough to understand how our heroes could have a weakness.

The jury is still out and reports still pending on whether or not years of violent hits caused Seau to take his own life. But I believe perhaps the culprit that cannot be measured is the absence of the competition and the silence of the praise. To the average Joe, that sounds foolish or silly, but to someone who has lived that life, it is as normal as breathing. 

It is shallow and vain? Yes, but it is all some athletes know and they have been well rewarded for being that way.

Housman goes on to say,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay,

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut

Cannot see the record cut,

And silence sounds no worse than cheers

After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.

They are our All-Americans or All-Stars we set them up as if they are gods, and we are shocked when they fail or show us that they have feet of clay. One’s ability to excel at sports doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is as gifted living life.

When you’re on the outside looking in, we believe we know what it takes to make someone happy. We may compare and contrast their lives with our own when trying to make sense of the situation. To some at least, the silence sometimes is worse than the grave. 

And the lesson to us average Joes is that sometimes the grass that looks greener on the other side of the fence might just be artificial turf.