Last Saturday evening you would have found me in a grassy parking lot, surrounded by the most beautiful sea of blue in the form of t-shirts and pants and hats and foam fingers and pompoms and tents and cornhole boards and so much more. Last Saturday evening was a gorgeous fall day in Kentucky, especially for the opening game of the 2016 University of Kentucky football season. My dad grilled burgers, my best friend and I caught up, my hub read tweet after tweet about the hype of the game, and people all around exuded excitement and anticipation for the hour to come when the roar of the Kentucky kickoff started the game.
The first half of the game, Kentucky played hard. They blocked, they passed, they intercepted, they ran. Hard. If you didn’t know already, I am an insane Kentucky football fan, and during this first half, I think I was beyond my normal crazy and into something a little more intense known as psychotic. These guys had worked all summer to bring their very best to the brand new, impressive Commonwealth Stadium on September 3rd, and boy did they bring it. Fans all around me commented on how solid our offense was and how our new quarterback was a pleasant surprise. The anticipation for the second half was almost overwhelming (at least for me), and I began to count this game as win. Maybe a little too soon.
Fast forward to the third quarter.
Those people I mentioned, exuding excitement and anticipation? Gone. The beautiful sea of blue in the form of t-shirts and pants and hats and foam fingers and pompoms? Gone. The roar from the stands? Gone.
Southern Mississippi took hold of the field and we didn’t take it back for the rest of the game. I felt the weight of each sack and tackle as the fourth quarter dragged on. As a Kentucky fan since before I was even born, this game was heartbreaking, maddening, and all around defeating. And I think that’s okay. I think it’s okay to feel the pain of your team losing. I think it’s okay to have the highest hopes for a group of young men to prove themselves in the sport that defines their lives. I think it’s also okay to be upset and disappointed when those expectations don’t become a reality.
But you know what’s not okay?
Leaving before the game is over. Yelling profane words to a bunch of young men who are giving their all for your entertainment. Yeah, we heard you use the N-word and the F-word. You’re real mature to scream until your throat explodes AT KIDS. Way to represent the Big Blue Nation.
If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know I already went on a tangent regarding my feelings toward the game last Saturday. Feelings of… “Excitement in the first half, anticipation during halftime, hope in the third quarter, and pure sadness during the last. Yet, the most difficult emotion to swallow was heartbreak… Heartbreak as I watched thousands of fans leaving the seats they were cheering from only a quarter before. I looked around the stadium wishing they were only running to grab a snack, when finally my eyes landed on the field. The field where some of the most intelligent, hardworking, kind young men I’ve ever known positioned themselves for a play. I couldn’t help but think they too were watching thousands of their fans leaving the stadium. How did this sight make them feel? Confident? Excited? Proud? Surely not.”
Maybe this is something I’m too hung up on. Maybe I shouldn’t be so fired up about a game. A team. But you know, I’ve tried shaking this feeling all week, but with another game only a few hours away, the reality of what happened in Commonwealth Stadium last week keeps smacking me in the face. In my bible study this past week, we talked about how individualistic our society has become. Kelly Minter, author and speaker of the study we’re doing — What Love Is, even pointed out that we are so worried about ourselves, so concerned with our wellbeing, so focused on what WE like that we now have little pods that make the perfect cup of coffee for our taste buds. We don’t even drink coffee out of the same pot anymore. How does this relate to football?
Because we only like things that which we can gain from. We only drink coffee when we can choose our own personal flavor. We only cheer for a football team when they’re winning, and therefore making us feel good about our sports team decision. And there is some sort of strange pride that exudes out of a person when their team wins. Is that truly why we pay thousands of dollars on sporting events a year? To feed our pride? How sad.
Jesus called us to be selfless. To love our neighbor as ourselves. To forgive even when we don’t want to and to extend compassion and care whenever possible. He didn’t call us to be self-righteous and greedy and full of pride. And maybe this is a stretch, but I think this applies to football. Before a season starts, fans are pumped. They are hopeful and excited for what is to come. We all believe that some crazy miracle is going to happen and we’re going to a bowl game and we’re going undefeated and all that jazz. Then we lose a game. Or two. Or three. Or the whole season. And people give up. We fans don’t want to stick around for a team that can’t make plays or hold off the D-line. So we leave games early. We scream out one last hurtful word to make ourselves feel better.
But we forget who is left on the field. We forget that people aren’t perfect. We forget that we ourselves are not perfect. We forget that when things go wrong, people actually want others there for comfort, for support, for help. We forget that people actually have emotions and feelings and that words hurt. And last Saturday, we forgot that there were young men left on a field with the weight of the Big Blue Nation on their shoulders, with the deafening silence of an empty stadium cheering them on.
I get a lot of comments from people that I read into things, or that because I’m a counseling student I think about feelings and emotions far too much. But the care of a person’s soul is the most important responsibility, and if we’re not careful, with our words, our actions, our cowardly Facebook posts, we will HURT people. As human beings, we have to start taking responsibility for what we say and do. And especially, if we are Christians.
For the sake of your Saturday, and the fact that the game starts soon, I’ll leave you with this:
Stop saying words that hurt. Stop leaving games (or whatever it is you leave) before it’s over. Stick it through to the bitter end. Drink out of the same pot as others. And for Heaven’s sake… #BeatFlorida.