Sitting in Texas Stadium tonight enjoying my Dallas Cowboys huge 37-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers, I was struck by the conflicting emotions and competing feelings about a Thursday night game in the NFL.
This week in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, there was all the hype one would expect from two 10-1 teams squaring off, vying for huge playoff implications.
But of course, the bigger story this week was the needless murder of a 24 year old player from the Washington Redskins, Sean Taylor.
The loss of this young father, a rising star in the NFL, was commemorated prior to the game tonight as will happen all weekend long at all the games played. His number, 21, was worn by the players from both teams.
And while soaking it all in tonight with my wife and son in our season ticket seats, I couldn’t help but realize how many will have a tendency to believe that his death makes a professional sporting event like tonight’s Cowboys/Packers game insignificant.
I would have to respectfully disagree.
There is tremendous significance in watching and cheering on the men (and women) who play competitively in the best sporting environments in the world. Pro sports gives millions of us ordinary Americans sheer joy and entertainment, a process we take quite seriously.
Players, coaches, and owners make hundreds of millions of dollars, a big business if there ever was one, in a country that should admire and appreciate big business.
I watched my wife Denise’s beaming face all night tonight as we realized that our beloved Cowboys are now playoff-bound, and silently thanked God that she was healthy and happy enough to be sitting at a game she loves going to as much as “the boys” in her family seven months after a diagnosis of stage iv cancer. After six chemotherapy treatments, we have reason to hold cautious optimism that she’s beating this dreaded disease, and relishing a huge Cowboys victory on a chilly Thursday night in Irving, Texas, was just what the doctor ordered.
Football does, indeed, matter.
And whether any of us want to admit it or not, these multi-millionaire superstars are admired and respected and supported and yes, emulated, by millions of Americans, many of them children.
The players can object to being role models all they want, but they’ve chosen to become some of our culture’s biggest celebrities because they’ve been blessed with a gift to grace the fields and arenas and diamonds all over the country.
And with that celebrity comes responsibility.
We don’t yet know whether Sean Taylor’s killing was a random act or some devious, pre-planned attack. One of his close friends insists that there is simply no way that this was a burglary, that there were many in Miami who were “jealous” of Taylor and he was frequently “scared” to be in South Florida.
His family discounts that theory.
But one thing that is hard to dispute: Sean Taylor saw more than his share of being on the wrong side of the law. His prior criminal actions are no secret. And while it’s wonderful to hear how he finally seemed to be turning his life around, one can’t help but wonder if he was involved in relationships or associations or previous behavior that would have made him a target of such a brutal, vicious act of violence.
This aspect of his death should be a part of the media's saturated coverage. We’ve heard just about every aspect of his shooting death so far, but no one seems to want to explore his prior dangerous and reckless behavior.
Perhaps that’s out of sympathy and compassion for his family and friends, and if so, I understand the reluctance.
But perhaps now is the perfect time to tell the story of his life and violent death to young people who might have wanted to grow up just like #21 of the Redskins.
Maybe his loss will serve as an important lesson to kids who want to embrace “gangsta rap” or the “thug life” like the stars they watch on TV or hear on radio.
If it’s true that Sean Taylor was turning into a fine young man after the birth of his child, maybe he, too, would have wanted children to learn from his tragedy and make good choices with their life, choices that would not involve assault or DUI.
Football players, like football games, matter to Americans. These stars are larger than life. And these days, we’re desperate for heroes.
Let’s hope Sean Taylor’s death will be a wake-up call to both the players and the fans who want to be players, if only in fantasy football leagues.
Let’s live life the right way. Do the right thing. Make the correct decisions. Play hard but play fair. And above all, let integrity be our guide.
There are a lot more ways to winning than just scoring more points than your opponent.