Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Game We Love

I was sitting here watching the funeral of slain UCONN Football player Jasper Howard. I realize some may think it is in poor taste or weird but there is nothing like a good ole fashion homegoing celebration. Not a funeral but a celebration of life. It is clear watching speaker after speaker talk about the man they refer to as Jazz was a tremendous young man, who had lots of people who supported him to maximize opportunities to put himself in a position to better himself and his family.

I am reminded that the game I love and was fortunate enough to play while merely a game is a ticket out for so many kids. To hear the coaches and mentors talk about the phone calls they get each week from Thad Lewis, Chris Chancellor, half of the Miami football team and so on, I was struck that football the game I love so much, a game I love to pontificate about, travel far awide to be a spectator is a true means to an ends for 1000s of kids not only in south Florida but throughout the nation. Football is used as a tool to teach discipline, instill confidence, to teach accountability and prepare for an opportunity for a way out for a chance at a better life. A scholarship to UCONN for Jasper Howard represented an opportunity that otherwise was not going to be available to him. I feel slightly ashamed as I watch this service knowing I did not have an ounce of the adversity Jasper and many other student athletes faced and almost walked away from an opportunity to earn a college degree. The point is not about what I did . The point for me is that as mad I get sometimes at this play or player or situation, I am reminded in many cases football is a means, a way out, an opportunity for a young man to better himself and his family.

I hear people talk about well I am not going to give another nickel to IPTAY, Hurricane Club, the Georgia Tech Athletic Fund, Seminole Club etc because they are not happy with the direction of the program, they are not winning enough, they do not like the coach but when you do that you are not impacting the Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator or Athletic Director. You impacting the opportunities for kids like Jasper Howard, Warrick Dunn, CJ Spiller, Jacory Harris, Clinton Portis, Sean Taylor, Demarius Thomas, Chris Chancellor from a chance for success. I know there are plenty of guys who have not gone on to the NFL and made milliions. It stands even more true for guy who will earn a degree, get a job and serve as as example not only to his family and future generations but to his community. It is truly amazing the impact of one person doing the right thing, taking advantage of opportunities can have on people.

One of my favorite players from when I was at Clemson was Chad Jasmin. Chad is from Vacherie, LA outside of New Orleans. Chad was about as Louisiana as you could get. I could hardly understand Chad when came to the equipment room and needed something. The thing about Chad is was he was from a small rural high school where he did not have access to the many of us enjoyed at our respective high schools. Chad was a Prop 48 kid. You have to sit out your first year and you essential have 3 years to play unless you finish in four years and the NCAA will grant a 4th year of eligibility. I remember standing outside after practice it seemed like Chad was on the discipline list everyday for class stuff and I remember Coach Burns who was the Running Backs coach standing out there, telling him he was not going to give up on him and that he was going to go to class and graduate because Coach Burns had told his mother that he was going to take care of him. Long story short Chad finished and four years and as a senior scored 4 TDs against South Carolina in a game Clemson won 63-17. It goes beyond the 63-17 win. Today Chad is has a job, is working and being productive. There are countless other stories out there of kids who used the game of football, basketball, track, etc. as a means to get an opportunity to get away from turmoil and uncertainty.

I will continue to love talking football, I will continue to wear my passion for my team on my sleeve, I will continue to be on the verge of breakdowns as games get tight but I will pause and realize that many of these kids who don the jerseys of our respective schools, they are playing for an opportunity, whether that is in the NFL or working towards a degree and going onto a career in the public or private sector. When you get mad and say I am not going to give another red cent to my school, remember that you are not impacting a coaching staff or athletic director you are impacting the ability of kids like Jasper Howard who need a chance , kids who depend on people like us to merely sacrifice a little to give them a chance. A chance of being where many of us are and beyond.

You are giving the gift of scholarships, you are gift of learning centers, you are giving the gift of opportunity. I will close with this, I know many of you are already involved or have been involved with giving back to your community not merely with your dollars but taking time to invest in a young person who does not have the advantages many of us enjoy. Some of the people reading the email have come from less than ideal situations but because people along the way invested in their time and wisdom they have achieved things that would otherwise not been available to them. It is my hope that we will take the opportunity from time to time to invest in others and your community not for recognition but because none of us are where we are today without a helping hand or a word of encouragement a long the way. It is not all about football itself because these kids had to come to realize they had to meet at least some minimums to have access to a collegiate scholarship. I hope we can take the time to invest in others because that is the way we are going to lift people up not Uncle Sam. I hope we will that we will take time to give back, reflect on our blessings and find ways where we can invest in the growth and development of others.