Anyone who played sports from an early age and into or through high school undoubtably had an inspirational coach somewhere along the way.
For me in was my 7th grade basketball coach, 2nd grade soccer coach, 5th grade baseball coach, and a flag football coach that let a bunch of 5th graders call their own plays. My sophomore year basketball coach was great too, but more from an entertainment standpoint than an inspirational one.
In the past, paying so much attention to professional sports has sort of made me indifferent to the humanity of them. Sports talk radio, Twitter, opinion columns, and all the talking heads on ESPN have no problem taking their shots at professional coaches and players in any of the major sports when his or her team is not performing well. Never remembering that it’s an actual human being, with a family and a life, strutting along the sidelines barking out the orders, or dropping back in the pocket.
And I’m guilty of that too. Every Sunday during football season for almost 30 years you can find me yelling something nasty at my tv screen toward the Minnesota Vikings head coach. Especially Brad Childress. Aside from Leslie Frazier, I never once thought about the human decency element of what I was doing. For Frazier, I always made the excuse for him that he’s a really good guy, so I can’t get mad at him. Denny Green, Mike Tice, Childress, and Mike Zimmer have all been free game and on my shit-list.
Players are the same way. There is a long list of names I could throw in here, mostly former Viking DB’s, that I’ve accosted verbally over the years. I always treated guys on my favorite teams like they were my personal NFL robots when they screwed up. Cursing them out from my couch with salsa stains on my shirt and tortilla chip crumbs lodged in my teeth. The players and coaches aren’t allowed to have feelings and emotions. They’re only allowed to make big plays and no mistakes.
Yesterday Harrison Smith got thrown out of the game for a helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless receiver. It probably should have been a penalty but definitely not an ejection. Head hunting or playing dirty is not what Smith is about. He’s shown that since 2012 with every snap he’s taken. I read an article about him a few years ago where he was talking about some 2nd string tight end for the Raiders coming over the middle to make a catch. Smith had done research on the guy, like he does to all his opponents before games, and had known he had serious knee injury issues in the past. And the NFL league rules don’t allow hits to the head and prefer you didn’t hit high. That put Smith in a mental bind. The normal tempo and situation of the play dictated that Smith go for the guy’s legs, but he pulled up, risking the player breaking away, and made sure to put a shoulder into his waist and wrapped him up that way instead, somehow not giving up any extra yards on the play. Any other safety in the league wouldn’t have given going for the legs a second thought. When he was explaining that in this particular article I was amazed and astonished. He cares about other players livelihood’s in the league and knows how hard it is to get to the NFL and make a living. It’s pretty clear he’s never out to hurt anybody.
So it should come as no surprise that coach Mike Zimmer was livid on the sidelines when news of the ejection made it his way. After the game he said a few things about it that inspired me to write this post.
“I love Harrison Smith, he’s like my son first of all. My issues is always the QB can throw in the middle of the field and there’s no repercussion whatsoever. Harrison is not a dirty player, he’s never been a dirty player. He tried to get his shoulder in there.”
“This guy is one of the best players in the NFL and one of the best people in the NFL. He’s not a dirty player.”
Dalvin Cook was asked about it and said, “As soon as he walked off the field, we told him we were bringing this back for him and when we went in the locker room at halftime, I told him personally ‘we’re bringing this back for you’.”
Now I know that some coaches and players have terrible reputations and many are just simply bad people. In those situations I’ve always just rooted for the team and the number on the jersey, not the name on the back. But when guys like Smith, Rudolph, Cook, Thielen, Kendricks, Hunter, and Coach Zimmer put it all together to do something great it becomes so much easier to be a fan and I take so much more glory and pride out of it. I regret that in years past I’ve lost my mind in the moment and went nuts with vulgar criticisms. Especially on those guys.
I haven’t done it yet this season though, and they have given me plenty of reasons. We’re four games in with a 1-3 record. I think that shows a little growth. I attribute that to being a father. I always think about what my dad or my kids would think of someone like me berating them or myself for something as trivial as failing at a sporting event.
Just gotta remember each Sunday those are actual human beings out there on the field. Playing a sport. Playing a game. A game a lot of us grew up playing with friends, and perhaps bumping into a few inspirational coaches along the way. Having fun and learning stuff.
Sundays between 12-3…A good time to show a little humanity myself.
And so far this year I’m a surprising 4-0.