Monday, January 6, 2014

The Faces Of Comedy And Tragedy

As published in The County Times ( in Sept 2010

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

NFL training camps, or the return of our gridiron gladiators, and the Little League World Series in not so far-off Williamsport, PA are two late-summer sporting staples.  Aside from their similar timing and some good old fashion competition, the two events have little else in common.  In the case of the NFL, well-compensated grown men compete in a professional setting at the pinnacle of their sport.  The Little League World Series involves 11-13 year old kids from around the globe competing at an early stage of athletics and compensated only by the incredible memories they’ll download and carry from this event for the rest of their lives.  Apart from the size, salary and competitive disparities, the most significant difference between pre-season NFL players and the little leaguers is captured by the poignant image of the two going about their business; one’s obviously at work while the other’s at play. 

Close your eyes and visualize the Little League World Series.  The images that likely come to mind are of kids giving every ounce of themselves for their teams and the overflowing euphoria of victorious teams.  Effort, passion and joy are abundant in the young, unburdened athletes that descend upon Williamsport every August.  In them we see the unbridled spirit of youth and the essence of amateur athletics.  It is a scene that prompts nostalgia for our own youthful athletic experiences and one that we long to see more of from those that play on fall Sunday’s or in any other professional sport. 

This expectation, of course, is unrealistic and we know it.  First, adults are more reserved creatures than kids.  Us big people are so situationally aware and self-evident we almost never get lost in a moment.  More importantly, though, the business of professional sports is a serious one with real consequences: see the fine line between employed and unemployed.  Pro coaches aren’t looking for cheerleaders; they want players who get with the program and produce.  There are no “nice tries”, only success and failure, and not everyone gets a trophy at year’s end.  I’m sure most NFL players once had an exuberance for the game rivaling anything we see in those little leaguers and they likely still genuinely enjoy what they do, but the win or lose harshness of NFL football modifies the joy-ride considerably.  Stated more broadly, the enjoyment gleaned from anything in life is squelched a bit the minute it transitions from something you want to do to something you feel like you have to do.   Still, most players are able to compartmentalize the business side of the game and enjoy the time between the lines - even during practices on a sweltering August afternoon.  One player though clearly cannot, and when the angry scowl of this curmudgeon is contrasted with the beaming smiles of the world’s little leaguers, it’s as if the masks of tragedy and comedy have come to life. 

Anyone with even a casual eye on the world of sports this summer has some level of awareness of the drama ‘Skins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth has brought on himself and the organization.  Beyond his obvious selfishness, combativeness, laziness and apparent inability to consider anything outside of himself, Haynesworth’s existence appears joyless.  Looking at his face it’s hard to tell if he’s playing a child’s game for tens of millions of dollars or smelling an old shoe.  That is simply disgraceful.  He is everything we should endeavor to never be.  Maybe one day long ago Haynesworth smiled like a little-leaguer but drop him in Williamsport now and he’d drain the fun from the joint like the Wicked Witch did in Munchkinland.   

Just because something you loved becomes a job laden with responsibility doesn’t mean you have to lose your all happiness in doing it; and if you do, maybe it’s time to do something else.  It might hurt the bottom line – wins and losses – but I’ll be glad when Haynesworth takes his perpetual frown to some other NFL town, or better yet, out of the NFL altogether.  When that happens, it’ll be far from a tragedy.

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