First of all, I was only able to see the last quarter of the game. I have been so wrapped up in the 49er’s this year there would have been no way I ‘d choose to miss a game without a seriously good reason.
And sure enough, the day of the NFC playoff game, nationally professed to be the “real” Super Bowl, I am smacked back into the reality of life and faced with making a choice that match with my life priorities. I had only one choice, and that was to attend the Memorial Service of my childhood friend, Judy Andrews Petrarca. Judy and I had known each other since first grade. She is one of the friends that was absent from me during the “lost years;” the thirty years when I lived away from my Oregon family and friends. Judy and I had seen each other only a half a dozen times in the last 30-something years, but her death brought to the forefront the importance of those friendships that last a lifetime, regardless of time spent together.
Judy, along with quite a few others, have known me since I was 6 years old. That is 56 years for all of you who care to know. That is only 6 years short of how long my sister has known me and 4 years short of my brother. In other words, they know things about me that most all of my current friends could ever know about me now. They share a history with me. They know exactly where I was when JFK was shot, so when I tell, them, “In the Creston Grade School cafeteria, in Mr. McMahon’s Orchestra class, they get it. They see it -- they feel it. When I joke that Judy had the best Go-Go boots in 6th grade, and quite possibly the only go-go boots at Creston, they feel the envy I felt so long ago. When I talk about the de-segregation abomination that took place and the sadness that emanated from the two boys who were bussed to our school our 8th grade year, they know exactly what I mean.
My Creston buddies, have been my buddies for 56 years. They have known me longer than my parents who died when I was just 36 and 41.
So it was a no-brainer that I would choose to be with the old gang to toast to a beautiful friend, taken too soon, on the day of the NFL championship. (Judy was feisty and a rebel and was probably rooting me on when, at the end of the gathering, I asked someone if they knew the score of the 49er’s Seahawks game. This was in Portland. I waited until I heard the score, before admitting I was a 49er’s fan. Tee-Hee!)
Then, I left to go to my son’s apartment where my husband was watching the game. I quickly donned my Niners Steve Young shirt and walked in the door only to watch the most miserable last 10 minutes of a game -- ever!
If you don’t follow football and don’t know anything about the game, you might want to stop reading now. Maybe look up the controversy attached to the game, or just keep reading. It really isn’t the outcome of the game that makes any difference, but what I learned about myself that is important to me. The first is that as much as I love football, my life-friends are most important.
The game was ugly, and a play-by-play description of the game angered me tremendously. I lapsed into a state of fear that escalated into a state of anger. That is textbook psychology. All anger is rooted in fear. If you are angry, you must ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” If you respond in truth, you will find out a lot about yourself.
I became an angry loud-mouthed fan as I watched the game be decided not by the talent on the field, but by incompetence, or bias of referees, and an escalation of anger on the field. (I’m quite positive opposing fans will not agree with this. So be it.)
Violence begets violence. Fear begets fear. Anger begets anger. It makes my stomach turn that any team, including my beloved 49er’s think that bad sportsmanship, abusive verbal attacks, and intentional violent conduct is of any value to a great championship game. I am saddened that today’s youth witness this egotistical, pompous, braggart behavior on the field. Heroes? No. These athletes are still little boys -- boasting and cheating when they are not sure of their real talent. Cheaters never win. They may win the game but they will not win in life. The best athletes in the world are people like Peyton Manning, and my son Gabriel. To them, football is only a game. It may be a profession but it does not define their priorities in life. I am not a Seahawks fan – PERIOD. I think the entire organization needs to rethink their way of marketing. It models bullying. I don’t care if anyone agrees with me. Don’t take it personally, because I’m about to confess my own weaknesses in being a football fan at any level.
I called the “SleazeHawks, loud-mouthed bullys. I think I still mean it. But in doing so, with such anger in my heart, I was stopped short to take notice of the horrid feelings coming from someone who professes Love is the only way to peace. How awkward it feels to find myself vomiting words of anger and hatred to a stupid blue and green football team. I fell into the trap of what I call the “bully syndrome.” Bullies make bullies of victims. No matter what sport I choose to watch, when there are injustices that determine the outcome of the game. I seethe. I am known for my stance against injustice towards anyone. But I know that anger will not change things.
In the last 24 hours since the game as my heart and stomach flip-flopped, I have been confused about how I can be in such turmoil and grief over a silly football game. That’s what it is. A GAME! What in the world is really going on?
And then it hit me. I don’t respond like this when the game is won clean and fair and the athletes perform with dignity and pride. I realize that I just, plain and simply, do not want to lose to an organization that won’t sell tickets to the opposing team’s fans, intentionally build a stadium that was created to “bother” the other team and doesn’t mind winning, not on athletic ability but whether or not the refs make fair calls and how many dirty plays they can get away with. Those plays are blatantly broadcast over and over again in instant replays. You don’t have to agree. And, again, it’s not about the game. It’s about my response to the game.
I am struck in the gut by the realization that my anger and outrage is not really about this one particular game. This game just pushed the buttons in me that cannot tolerate the constant injustices in life -- boasting, bragging and bullying, beating, berating... I abhor anyone bulldozing anyone else. My anger is really about the times in my life people have been mean, uncaring and cruel to get what they want. The blatant, intentional face-masking, questionable turnovers, bad ref calls – all of it - parallels the times when I have been screwed over by others, especially when trying to be gracious and give the “other team” the benefit of the doubt. There is an ugliness in those who would take advantage of the goodness of someone else. In my life there have been people – pastors, ex-friends, and bosses, who took advantage of the fact that I like to play on a fair and even field. I submitted to their authority only to be hurt by them. It is easier to stomp on someone if they are kneeling down.
So, this particular NFC game is when the ugliness of the past wrongs against me came back to haunt me. I was not a very gracious loser. I apologize to the one Seahawk fan in the room for all I said at the end of the game. It was a glorious moment for you and I robbed you of your moment.
But I am not apologizing for how I felt. Watching Sherman, the next day, defend his end-of-game rant re-fueled the fire of anger within me. He asked that we not judge him by that one statement. But, son, words are powerful. What you said hurt many more people than you profess to be helping through your charity work. A Stanford education does not make up for a lack of judgment in the moment. You, Mr. Sherman, are a professional football player. You get PAID for your job -- a paid professional. In other words, you are not really a pro yet. A real pro does not blame adrenalin for their lack of grace and humility. It is your prideful nature, indeed, that made you slip and keeps you an amateur. The real pros win with grace. As my son says -- probably something he’s been taught and embraced through his college football years, is that you leave the “ugly” on the field. Your team won the game and still you made the choice to spend your 1-minute interview bad-mouthing your opponent. Perhaps it was because your subconscious mind understood that the game wasn’t decided on just talent, especially yours, but on a few bad calls that made you NFC champs. That’s why you had to boast. Your game-ending play was just one play and makes you nothing more than an alert and savvy player. It was a good play, but it did not concrete the win. There are many things that can change the fate of a game, and human error by refs or players is one of them. That is part of the game. And, there is a good and bad side to instant replays that are shown over and over again. In this case, everyone saw the truth and you know they did. To be fair, Mr. Sherman was not alone in his rude behavior. But, you get to choose how you want to go forward. Do you want to be known as a boastful braggart, or be known for shaking the hand of your opponent and walking off the field with dignity and grace and create a moment of distinction. The second way is safer. If you walk off in grace, you don’t have to try and live up to your boasts at the next game.
I am truly offended by many of our professional athletes these days. 49ers are not exempt. Please clean up the game. Please teach my grandchildren, that getting away with cheating and rule-breaking is not a dignified way to win the game. Please learn to be gracious winners.
Please do not encourage others to be hateful and angry. I am appalled that I was hooked and fell into that trap. It is a place I need to heal. The recognition of that is the only joy in the pain of loss. That is the only gift in being so angry: that and understanding that I have not come to grips with the injustices in my own life. When I see acts of injustice on the sports field, in courts of justice, between bosses and employees, in Pastors and churches, in parents who abuse their kids, in rapists who violate anyone, I get livid.
So, as someone said, Sherman just made me a Broncos fan for the Super Bowl. I will always, always root for those who have a class act. I will work harder to keep my own anger tempered by discerning the fear that lies beneath the anger. Many times that anger originates from being fearful of ever letting myself be in a position again where my destiny could be decided by insecure, boastful, needy people, no matter their stature.
Games are not always won in loving ways, but life is.
And so, today I sat wondering how to negate the anger. It came to me that the 30 or so mutual friends at Judy’s memorial service all agreed that we cannot wait for another death before we get together and all vowed to go forward telling one another, families and friends how much they mean to us. I decided to focus on that instead of the anger. Again my life-priorities saved me.
I started that process today, texting my family how and why I love them. That act of love erased the fear and anger. I feel the redemption of claiming love over anger. The game is fading in my mind but my discovery and lesson learned at Judy’s service and experiencing the game will stay with me forever.