Sunday, November 18, 2007

Keep It Real

It’s taken me awhile to come to terms with this feeling of emptiness that has defined my existence for the past few years. It started after I injured my knee. I had just got to the point where I felt like I was in control of the sitation. I can recall taking a second during a game in Washington, and saying to myself “you got this down”. I was running with top draft picks stride for stride, making plays. I could see my goal coming closer and then it was taken away with a catastrophic knee injury. I can close my eyes and see myself crying on the field, in disbelief. Years of hard work flashed before my eyes, I knew that I would never be able to play the game the same.

Until now I could not articulate my emotions, nor enumerate the contributing factors to what has been a losing battle. I have felt hollow, empty, in a daze. My time on this earth has been extraordinary by most standards. Between my athletic ability and academic standing, I was always told that I would be able to write my own ticket. I tried for awhile to not buy in to the talk, to maintain a humble outward demeanor, but never seemed to be quite successful. People would often link arrogant and demanding to my personality, sometimes with good reason. The irony is that in my mind everything I had was expected. My parents raised me to believe I was special, and that it was my duty to attain high status within this world. The reality is that I never considered myself to be anything more than what I was supposed to be, that my experiences were different from others was God’s will… not my own. My goal was to exceed the exceptional because anything less would have been a disservice to the talents that had been bestowed upon me.

Now that I am disconnected from that lifestyle, I feel a yearning for the attention that came with the limelight. I was always the first to state how I didn’t care what others thought of me, that I did not do things to impress others. For the most part those were true, but not entirely. I like having people expect great things of me, to know who I am when I walk in the room, to live under the microscope. I thrive under the pressure and relish the responsibility. Losing that is a life altering experience.

I spent my whole life preparing for the time when I could no longer play ball. I ran organizations, did my classroom work, and secured internships. I worked to fight the dumb jock assumption, it was my hobby. Football was my passion; it was where I excelled and gained the self confidence to deploy in the other aspects of my life. Since that outlet has gone away I have struggled to find a complementary source. I have become so distracted that I am incapable of sustaining relationships. It is difficult to trust when you don’t feel like you are worth much.

This emotional state is not unique to me. Many former athletes go through this period of uncertainty. How many examples of athletes who tried to play beyond their time can you account? What about instances where former athletes have been in trouble with the law for aggressive acts of violence? Even the more functional career paths like color commentary and front office executives, are often feeding their inner psyche by maintaining a passive connection to the game. I consider going after one of these types of roles, but I can’t see it doing the trick. I need something where I am truly enacting change in how others conduct their lives on a day to day basis. I need to feel valued to the point that people shut up when I start talking. The only problem is that I can’t think of where my role in society is set to play out. I’m still working on that.


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