This has been an awful year. Millions of people have had it worse than me, and that might be another reason to feel like the catastrophic moments I’ve had wondering if I’m being too irresponsible or too cautious are another reason to feel bad.
In the middle of a global pandemic, the Big 12 elected to play football. That decision seemed vital to the SEC and ACC going forward, and eventually, it led to the Big 10 and PAC-12 playing.
I’ve argued that was the right move. I thought the risk of contracting the virus wasn’t higher for athletes playing football compared to universities being open. Maybe that will turn out wrong; in this era, some would argue that uncertainty dictates limiting most activities, including football. But I was convinced the testing regime, coupled with universities being open anyway, didn’t make the risk of virus explosion that high.
And perhaps, most importantly, there’s something profoundly good about football. To those that dislike sports, the concept of watching any sport—much less football—is bewildering. Even in the highest tempo games, the action takes 20 minutes over three hours. We can’t see half the action because the camera zooms in on a narrow stretch of the field. And our attachment to the players might seem like an anachronistic longing for a time when we were young students.
Tonight reminded us why football is such a powerful game. Watching Baylor take the field and play was the happiest I’ve been since March. Again, that might truly be wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t feel sanguine when the future warrants profound anxiety. I’ve had some good moments with excellent people in the last few months. But there’s a normalcy and unique gift from a football season. Good friends that haven’t talked in months start texting about a running back being unstoppable on kick returns. Families that find it difficult to deal with the challenges of life and communicate their true thoughts find a reprieve to watch something they’ve gathered to enjoy across marriages and divorces, births and deaths, firings and relocations. The game offers belief when we can’t find it in our normal lives.
Football also provides something to the players too. While I believe the players should be paid a salary—we can debate that some other time—the game itself is phenomenal. The world’s best athletes train in grueling conditions to play an overwhelmingly difficult game. They learn about teamwork and sacrifice. Most will find that their loftiest dreams will come up a bit short. But as Cicero once said, “When you are aspiring to the highest place, it is honorable to reach the second or even the third rank.” The journey provides something that is only grasped by those that have the pleasure to watch and play it. The best things in the world are truly indescribable because they force you to confront the source to grasp it. Football does that.
Nobody can truly understand what makes standing in the heat, or sometimes worse, the unbearable cold, with your friends to watch an activity few of us really grasp at the highest level, worthwhile. To truly understand you have to be there. And tonight Baylor football was. Few things provide much hope in 2020. Baylor football’s done that. And no matter how this season ends—or when it does—I’m grateful they did.