Fractured Faith: Essays on Injury
I wrote last week’s column “Football: Closest to a Battlefield?” back when I’d first decided to become a coach, more than five years ago. I used to read that essay during radio interviews, pasted it into emails I sent other coaches, recited it weekly to my players—I lived it.
Now, a year removed from football, sitting idly by on the sideline, watching the boys run and tackle, listening to the sound of their pads popping like sheet metal flapping in a storm, the question still remains: “Why football?”
When I first agreed to write this column, I planned on going deep into the game. Looking back over twenty straight football seasons, drudging up the memories, the touchdowns, the late hits, and trying to find some answers. Problem was, I started writing in March, about as far away from football season as possible.
So I wrote about the Golden Suns, fishing, family trips to the beach, and of course—Trump. It was a good ride. I’ve received a wide array of thoughtful responses from so many of you. I’ve even found emails from as far away as South Africa waiting in my inbox. It’s been fun.
Now, football season is upon us, and it’s time to get back to business.
For so long, my life revolved around football. You could set a clock by it, or better yet, a calendar. Come early July—the AAA mandated “dead weeks” over and done with—Eli Cranor was somewhere on a football field. Tossing passes. Running bleachers. Calling plays with a whistle dangling around his neck.
It’s that time of year again, and Lord knows I can’t sit back and watch. Instead, I plan on taking you through a week-by-week “mini-series” of essays.
I’m calling them: “Fractured Faith.”
As of now, there are ten interviews, one for each week of the high school football regular season. Some have suffered ankle breaks, others concussions, some even endured the greatest loss, but each and every injury occurred on the gridiron.
The question I really want to get the answer to—and what we’ll be finding out together—is how the injury impacted their faith. No, I’m not talking about a higher power (though we may get into that, too). I’m talking about their faith in America’s favorite game. I’m talking about football.
For most Arkansans, most Southerners, football is nearly a religion. We worship on Fridays and Saturdays (not as many on Sundays anymore, not after all that kneeling). We leave the chapel and spread the word—the Gospel—to anyone who’ll listen, lamenting the Hogs’ heartbreaking loss, or praising the local boys’ upset victory. For the tried and true, the game affects our work, our sleep, our general demeanors throughout the fall. Deep down, I think we all know it’s kind of crazy.
Crazy or not, football is here to stay. And in the coming weeks you’ll hear from people who have not just cried when their favorite team lost, but actually felt the pain, witnessed a slick green bone sticking out of a leg, bent down to cradle a son when he didn’t get back up.
I think you’ll be surprised. I know I was. Not all of these football disciples lost their faith. In fact, some were strengthened, seeing football as the thing that saved them, kept them going after the storm had passed and the damage was done. In the end, their faith was not destroyed, not ruined—just fractured—and how that break has healed is where we’ll find our stories.
For week one, I’ll be interviewing a local legend, a record-setting quarterback who suffered a career-ending shoulder injury, but found a new life beyond the gridiron. I can’t wait to share his story with you.
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