At the onset of “Fractured Faith,” I compared America’s obsession with football to religion. The fanaticism, the fervor, the gobs of money we dump into professional and collegiate football — what does all that say about our culture?
Over the course of the last seven weeks, I’ve introduced you to a cross-section of people with one common denominator: injury.
Despite their differences, almost all responded in the same way to their varying wounds: None held negative feelings toward the sport. None regretted playing. In fact, they all believed football benefited them, made them stronger in a way nothing else could.
There was Landon Leach, a former Russellville Cyclone standout quarterback who suffered a career-ending shoulder tear just after receiving a football scholarship. “Eventually, I realized I couldn’t do it on my own,” Leach said, explaining life after the gridiron. “So I got right with the Lord, got right spiritually.”
On much the same note, Christy Rasico, mother of Zack Towers (who passed away after a football-related head injury) had this to say: “I truly believe there was a reason God allowed it to happen on a football field. The field is a big showcase that touches many people.”
In our darkest days we search for the light. You can feel it in Landon and Christy’s words. There’s pain there, so deep many of us cannot imagine, but from that pain, they’ve found something stronger, something powerful.
Mark Twain once asked, “What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness?” He went on to say, “You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other. There is always going to be suffering. It’s how you look at your suffering, how you deal with it, that will define you.”
Twain’s quote segues nicely into Phillip “Supe” Supernaw’s thoughts on football. The six-year NFL veteran has endured more injuries than any other player I interviewed, but still he had no regrets. “If I’d wanted to be an accountant,” Supe said, “I would have done that, but I chose to ram my head through walls.”
And then came the tales from Sweden, a country where soccer and hockey reign supreme. We met Fredrick Isaksson, the legal consultant by day and big-play-making wide receiver by night, a man who paid to join a football “club,” and in doing so incurred five diagnosed concussions. “It’s weird,” Isaksson said, “to sacrifice so much for something that in the end doesn’t really mean anything, but I guess, in a way, it means almost everything.”
Finally, we heard from J.R. Eldridge, head football coach of the Arkadelphia Badgers. Eldridge has spent the last thirty years of his life on a football field, where he sustained numerous concussions, vertebrae injuries, and multiple broken bones. After all of that, though, he said this: “The cost of playing football is the benefit. The pain, the grind, that’s what I get out of football. Nothing great has ever been achieved without great risk.”
The people I interviewed have grit. They’re up to their eyeballs in it. They’ve been blindsided, cold cocked, and knocked the heck out, but they’ve gotten back up. They’ve lost brothers and sons to football and still don’t question the game’s place in our world. These are tough, tenacious, and hard-nosed people who will always find a way to persevere.
Harry Crews, a favorite, late author of mine, echoes this final sentiment. “So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people,” Crews once said. “The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design.”
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