You don't get a chance to see the big picture until a significant chunk of time has passed. How certain forks in time, certain decisions play out over a course of decades. Time is and always will be the greatest filter for what choices we make, for opportunities won or loss, for ideas acted upon and for ideas left by the wayside.
My first memory of football was Billy Sims jumping over a defender, juking and high stepping into the end zone. I was probably 6 or 7. It was the first time I had goose bumps from excitement. I didn't watch football either. It was something that just struck me as amazing. It woke up something built into me.
I wanted that.
I didn't play football until 7 years later. 8th grade. I was going to be a running back. I was small and just started lifting weights. I prayed every night to get bigger so that I could play football. Every single day I had only one thought in my head, get better so I could play football. Every time I studied for a test, it wasn't to do well on a test, it was a to get a better grade for getting recruited. Every day I worked and prayed to make the NFL. I went to college and even lived down South for year under the guise of an NFL developmental camp. I had an agent and the stuff that comes from that. Combines, workouts with teams, more lifting, more running. Never made it. I came to the hard but honest answer that I wasn't good enough. I was ok with that in the end. I had left no stone unturned. I can look back at that time from 8th grade till one year post college and say I had done everything to make it and it didn't happen. There is a great relief knowing I never have to whisper the dreaded two words, "if only."
Two things have brought even more peace in my lifetime. The first was this poem shared by a friend years ago. Push The Rock
The second was an article I read the other day. It was one of the most honest articles about what we are discovering about post NFL life some players are dealing with. This article about Ex NFL running back Jamal Lewis life after football, struck a chord. I think for the first time I realized how much I may have gained by not getting the opportunity to keep playing football. Joint pain is one thing. Losing your brain, how you think, how you process, seems so much more....scarier. If it changes your personality, it changes you.
It really gets into some deep philosophical questions about if your brain deteriorates and your personality changes is this flesh suite still you? If you can't think, reason, enjoy the environment you live in, create new memories or remember the old one, are you still alive or just existing. It's why diseases like Alzhemiers and those associated with dementia are so scary.
I've been concussed but not on that level. I've had several minor ones, but again not on the frequency that is seen in the NFL these days. I'm under no delusion that I would have lasted long enough in the NFL to have these severe issues, but who knows what ailments lingers with you even from a brief window of physical beatings. We don't know.
Jamal Lewis shows where he grew up, why he viewed sports as his only avenue out of his circumstances. He states it was the best option for him. I grew up with way more options. As more and more of these athletes step forward and share their stories, I think we will see more and more young athletes assess their choices. It's very brave for these ex athletes to share their own fears about the future, even if the only thing that happens is that it gives one person a sense that perhaps that road taken wasn't the best option after all.