When you see something you want to blog about, an article or a video or whatever, the first thing you try to do is come up with your “take” or your “spin” or whatever you want to call the thing that separates blogging from merely linking to the news. And when I first saw this article about former Redskins WR Michael Westbrook and what he is doing now, I was planning on a series of jokes about how he went from hitting Stephan Davis for free to getting paid to hit people.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the posting. I read the whole article. And I read the story of a man who has found some peace and who still has the scars that game and we as fans have given him. Michael lives in Arizona and is studying Brazilian jujitsu and is winning tournaments on a national level. He has completely abandoned football to the point that he has sent any reminder of his career away. Years after the fact he is still fighting the perception that he is gay to the point that women he dated are calling him and asking about it.
Of course, I wouldn’t be who I am without mentioning that I can’t believe it is the 21st freakin’s century and we’re still talking about a football player protecting his sexuality. Newsflash, boys, hundreds of gay men have played the sport and you didn’t “catch it” and you weren’t violated. Drop it.
OK, sorry. End of parenthetical. The thing that struck me was the end of the article when Westbrook said he felt sorry for the guys who were about to taken high in the draft. Here is a man who is set for life in his late 30′s because of the game and he has such a negative feeling of the game that he feels sorry for the guys about to do the same thing he did.
While Westbrook is lucky in many ways, he is also a victim of a game that chews up and spits out a lot of young men. This is a game where 22 year old men are booed for failing to catch a little brown ball. And if you drop enough of them, they start throwing things at your house and threatening your life or the lives of your family.
So as I said, when I started writing this, I was going to make fun of Westbrook. I had a whole string of jokes about the two major foul ups and in Westbrook’s career, the fight with Stephan Davis and the infamous play where he slammed his helmet down getting a 15 yard penalty and costing us the playoffs. But those jokes would have been part of the problem.
This article reminded me that while we pay our ticket prices and that gives us certain rights, certain affiliations, certain hopes and expectations, it does not give us the right to try to ruin someone’s life. Whether that player is Bill Buckner or Michael Westbrook or even just a QB ready to be benched, it doesn’t really give us the right to do our best to ruin their psyche, their sense of safety, and their well-being.
I’ve always been the type of person that says the only person that deserves to be booed on the field is someone who isn’t trying hard. But more than ever I think we need to consider the long term reality and the effects of out actions on real people, young people, for failing to succeed at a game.
Anyway, I’ve always thought the best way to enjoy a game is to cheer a team to victory even when they are losing rather than boo them for sucking. But more than ever I hope more people take it to heart.
Good luck, Michael. Thanks for the memories, good and bad.