To the kids who play football at the University of Alabama:
As a fan of Alabama football, this has been a tough week for me. No, I’m not talking about the loss in the Iron Bowl. At least not directly. Though that loss was certainly difficult, the real reason it’s been such a tough week for me is because of what happened after the loss.
After the smoke cleared and I picked my broken heart up off the ground, I did what at least one or two other people did to cope: I took to social media. I wanted to see how other people were dealing with the gut-wrenching loss. What I found was both incredibly encouraging and overwhelmingly disheartening.
In one corner, I saw faithful Alabama fans congratulating Auburn on a game well played. Some sent congratulatory tweets or wall posts to their Auburn friends wishing them well on their way to Atlanta and hopefully to Pasadena. That was classy, and I appreciated it. Win with class, and lose with even more class.
In the other corner, however, something else reared its ugly head. I saw Alabama fans casting stones. Everybody was in shock. But these people were looking for someone to blame, someone to crucify. Many blamed a kicker, pointing to his missed opportunities as the reason they felt the emotions they were unable to process properly. So they sent him death threats and hurled insults at him. Others blamed a coach for making what they considered to be stupid calls at crucial moments. The same man that they had earlier touted as the best coach in all of football became a target for their scorn. At least one fan blamed other fans for her emotional duress, tragically taking the life of another fan who wasn’t showing the same level of inner turmoil as she was.
Everybody was looking for someone to blame, and I sadly am unable to say that I was any better. I wanted to pin the loss on someone or something too. But now, after a few days of watching how the Alabama fanbase has reacted to the loss, I finally found who is really to blame for what happened on the field that day.
I blame me.
I am the reason things got so out of hand. I am the reason you had so much pressure riding on you as players. I am the reason your coach always feels the pressure to second guess every decision he makes for fear of making even a single wrong choice at any point in his career. If we must find someone to blame for what happened on the field on Saturday and all that has happened afterward, we need look no further than your fanbase. We are the problem.
You see, somewhere along the line, your fanbase forgot one very important thing about the game of football. We forgot that it was a game.
We forgot that you guys are a group of kids in your late teens and early twenties playing a game. Because of our fandom, we turned your game into a life-absorbing religion and we turned you into larger-than-life gods of that religion. We became so enthralled in football that it took over top-billing on our lists of priorities, usurping things it never should have. And in doing so, we put so much unfair pressure on you that it was inevitable that you would one day fold under the weight of that pressure. For that, I’m sorry.
The nasty F-word of ‘football’ caused us, your so-called fans, to hurl a barrage of even nastier F-words your way after the game. We forgot that there are things in life far more important than football. I, for one, forgot that there are at least three other F-words that should take precedence over football. We forgot about friendships, family, and faith. Or least we pushed those priorities aside every Saturday for a third of our year. And in doing so, we failed you.
But loss has a funny way of bringing things into focus. After the loss on Saturday, I recognized a few things about myself.
I recognized that I had allowed this whole thing called fandom to get out of hand. I love football. And I love my team. But I love my wife, my kids, my friends, and my God a whole lot more.
I also recognized you for what you are. You are a group of kids. Or, let me give you more dignity and call you a group of young men. You are not gods. You are not super-heroes. And you are not perfect. You dedicate yourself to playing a sport and hope to one day make that your profession. Good for you, and best of luck to you.
I also recognized football for what it is. It is a game. Nothing more. It is not a religion. It shouldn’t be a way of life. It’s the most exciting game in the world, but it’s still just a game. And I, for one, commit to keeping that in my mind.
Win or lose, I stand behind you guys. I really appreciated seeing the letter written to Cade Foster after the backlash he received. And it was that letter that inspired this one.
I greatly respect and appreciate what you do to make our Saturdays in the fall as exciting and enjoyable as they can be. So go play your game, and I’ll cheer you on regardless of the outcome.
[If you as a fellow Alabama fan agree with this letter, please take the time to hit one of the “share” buttons at the top of the page just under the title for whichever social medium you prefer (sorry, these buttons aren’t available when viewing on a mobile device). I would love for this letter to actually make it to the eyes of some of those players upon whom we place so much pressure each week.]