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Reality Sets In

Hayden Hollingsworth
Hayden Hollingsworth

It seems that the hype of football season began in early June. Headlines appeared touting the expected prowess of various teams, most notably UVA and Virginia Tech, in our local newspapers. This is interesting on several fronts, not the least of which is how gullible we are about believing that this will be a different sort of year. Let’s not mention the mediocre to miserable records from last season; this time it will be different.

And it started off on unusually promising notes. Virginia Tech astounds the football world by bashing the Buckeyes on national TV. Could this really be the year? East Carolina quickly disposed of that dream the very next week. UVa makes quite a credible showing against vaunted UCLA dimming the memory of having lost ten games in a row. Then this week, UVa falls to a more powerful and poised Brigham Young while Virginia Tech loses in the last second to an undefeated Georgia Tech. They acquitted themselves well . . . but they lost.

We should not lose hope; we should just have a reality check. These teams may be good, but they will not, nor should we necessarily want them to be great. The football factories about which I have railed in the past are not on horizon for our schools, thank goodness.

In the past month great unpleasantness has surfaced in the world of sport; it just happens to be the time of year that football is in the foreground. The unfortunate unveiling of Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens as Thug of the Month has morphed into an iceberg the tip of which has been carefully camouflaged by the powers that be. In no way can his behavior be condoned but it can explain the need to not talk about it. In a game that features players making multi- millions of dollars a year, the owners will go to all extremes to protect their product image. Rice happens to be one who got caught on a surveillance video savagely punching his girlfriend in the head. That she married him anyway speaks volumes about her judgment, but that’s not our problem; it will likely be hers.

The players sometimes are the product of an environment where such behavior is not unusual but that doesn’t excuse them. The owners rarely have such a background but they will condone violence off the field to protect their investment. It is the same scenario as General Motors making the conscious decision to conceal an ignition switch that was fatally flawed. It’s all about money.

Athletes should not be held to a higher standard than the general public, but it should go without saying that neither should they be cut slack to allow behavior that would lead to jail time for an ordinary citizen. Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, can’t escape the publicity that is swirling around him nor should he shoulder the entire blame for the shame that surrounds this. Every owner, every coach, be it professional, collegiate, or secondary school should take this as an object lesson: there should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior.

Two quotes come to mind and they are antithetical. The first came from arguably one of the greatest football coaches of all time, Vince Lombardi. Purportedly, said he, “Winning or losing is not a matter of life and death; it’s much more important than that.” The other, ironically, is from another man named Rice: sportswriter Grantland Rice, written in 1908 in a poem entitled “Alumnus Football.”

“For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks—not that you won or lost—but how you played the Game.”

Grantland Rice has been dead 60 years but that line needs to be written in the minds of players and coaches, owners and the public everywhere.

For our local favorites, let’s hope they already understand that.

– Hayden Hollingsworth

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