Passion and the Price We Pay: A fan’s dilemma

ImageAnd so this is what happens when you care, when you hope and, most importantly, when you have passion for your team: the emotional free fall caused by failure takes you to cavernous depths that leave you torn, tattered and wounded. And right now I want to take down everyone with me; it’s part of  the coping process. 

As a Dallas Cowboys fan, this is a cycle all too familiar to me: In the preseason hope reigns eternal with such a talented roster; lackadaisical performances riddled with inconsistency and “you’ve got to be shitting me” mistakes make the playoffs seem like a million miles away. This is where you start to see dissension amongst the troops, as fans fall into two main categories: the haters and the excuse makers. 
 
“Our quarterback sucks!” This would be considered hate monger mantra whereas “Our quarterback isn’t the one running the wrong routes!” falls into the latter category. The discussions ensue, leaving one thing abundantly clear: many fans don’t know squat about football. One guy I spoke with swears to Christ that Jessica Simpson is still to blame.
 
And just when you start mentally writing of the season and paying closer attention to things like draft order and which college kid might we see in silver and blue next year, something magical happens: the Cowboys start  making a run. All of a sudden they’re playing inspired football again, winning games they were destined to lose a month before. The focus is on the field and not the crusty owner in the luxury suite. I’ll get to Jerry in a minute; there’s a collapse about to happen.
 
Yes, the collapse. The fail. The heartbreak. The bobbled snap. The dropped pass. The wrong route. The interception. The fail. 
 
The fall. Down.
 
And here now is where the discussion turns to the owner, Jerry Jones, he of the pulled back face and J.R. Ewing persona in which you can just picture the man lighting up a stogie with a fat c-note. As an NFL owner there’s not a lot I can personally complain about; I admire his passion, his willingness to provide his players and fans with the best money can buy. You don’t go to games at Jerry’s Palace, you experience them. He’s been a major influencer of change that has helped turn the NFL into the most talked about sport in America. These are facts that cannot be stricken from the record here.
 
But with good Jerry comes a crappy GM. The same passion that makes him a great owner is what blinds him as a purveyor of talent. He cares more for talented players that will fill seats rather than those players who fit into a scheme. While many GMs around the league pay attention to Wunderlick scores, player development and chemistry, Jerry’s chasing the next sure thing, that next Hall of Famer to build a team around rather than building a true team. 
 
I buy the groceries I may as well cook the dinner, is what Jones said once. As the owner he can basically do whatever he wants. But shouldn’t dinner taste good? Cowboys fans have been eating some pretty crappy dinner on Sundays since one Jimmy Johnson left the team and now shills for junk-enhancing pills.
 
And so now this: A passionate fan base reeling from the works of an Owner/ GM blinded by passion. I’ve eaten Jerry’s dinner. It’s 4 in the morning and I sit alone, guts aching and I’m literally flushing the season away.

Seau, Suicide & Our Circle of Friends

Pat O’Brien, one of the co-hosts of Fox Sports Radio’s The Loose Cannons Show, asked a poignant question on the day former NFL linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide.

“Where was his inner circle?” O’Brien sighed as if he were alone, sitting on a park bench with nobody around to hear instead of the millions of people tuning in throughout the country.

O’Brien and his co-hosts talked about the warning signs, how Seau drove off a 30-foot embankment some 18-months earlier after a domestic dispute. They talked about how beloved Seau was, both on the field and off. And the more I listened the more their voices trailed off, my mind stuck on the question that didn’t seem to have an answer.

“Where was his inner circle?”

Come to think of it, where is mine? Where is yours? Who comprises the circle of trusted people that you can go to when the proverbial crap hits the fan?

In a day when there are “likes” and “fans” and “tweeps” and all sorts of ways to stay connected with other people in the social universe, I have to go back in time, when my circle consisted of friends I got to see face to face nearly every day. From the sandbox to my partying balls college daze, I can recognize now that I’ve always had some form of circle. And even though these circles have taken on different incarnations over the years, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have them.

There’s no doubting that a beloved human being like Junior Seau had his circle. And so I go back to O’Brien’s question, and the only thing that makes any sense at all is that in order for our trusted inner circles to work, we have to be the straw that stirs the drink. In other words, we have to have enough trust in the people we surround ourselves with to talk about the shitty times we may be going through, be it divorce, depression, drugs and, well, you get the point.

The Loose Cannons and other talk radio hosts mentioned that there were plenty of warning signs with Seau, that playing 20 years in the NFL had to have some kind of effect on his brain. Researchers are trying to make the correlation between head injuries and concussions to depression and other neurological disorders.

Seau killed himself on the same day the NFL levied out major suspensions for current players who participated in what’s being called Bountygate, guys who got paid to allegedly hurt other guys on the football field. In addition, more former players are coming forth with lawsuits against the NFL, alleging that the league didn’t do enough to protect its players against head injuries.

Sadly, another former player ended his own life less than two years ago by shooting himself in the chest, like Seau. Dave Duerson, a key member of the Chicago Bears Super Bowl team, had been driven mad by what some believe were his post concussion complications. He explained in his suicide note that he was donating his brain to science so that it could be studied further. And just this morning, it has been reported that Seau’s family will allow researchers to study his brain, too.

But this is about more than just football. This is about coping through tough times and finding the needed support to pull through those times. It’s about getting help and trusting the people we consider to be that close inner circle of friends.

Seau’s life ended far too soon at the age 43. And right now more than ever, the family and friends he left behind will need the support of their circles, too.

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