In The Pantheon of the Gods!

           NFL: Super Bowl XLVII-Pregame Features

Defensive Tackle Warren Sapp

 Reflections on Induction into the Football Hall of Fame

Most of us mere mortals can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a professional athlete, let alone the thrill of being inducted into the Hall of Fame – which means that you have selected by the authorities on the game as one of the greatest of the greats!  It is such a rare honor that real tough guys – NFL football players no less – are crying like big babies all over television when trying to explain to the fans what their induction in the Hall means to them.

These men have been stars their entire lives; nobody that makes it to the pros suddenly become great.  This means that by virtue of their special gifts – because true greatness is an endowment from nature, religious people would say a gift from God – people have genuflected before them, heaped praises upon their names, and sought their friendship since they were children.

They were greatly admired by their peers and their peer’s parents, and school teachers often let them slide on things that other kids would have been sanctioned for.  They were admired by males and adored by females.  In other words, their lives were very different from the common lot of us, and it greatly affects not only how we see them, but how they see themselves and everyone else.

I believe the only other group of people who experience this kind of life-long adoration are great singers.  Like great athletes, practice alone will not make a mediocre singer great; one is born with the gift of song; practice can only enhance the gift.  Of course there are gifted people in all fields, but I believe singers and athletes receive more public adulation because everybody played the games the pros play in grade school, and almost everybody has had occasion to sing – whether in chapel at school, from the hymnal in church, or crooning in the shower- and now, unfortunately, Karaoke.   Since we have tried these things we know how hard it is to do them well, and we know greatness when we see it.

Yet in a lifetime of adulation induction into the Hall of Fame is the ultimate accolade.  And when the game is football it is especially intense.  Football is a blood sport; the psychology of the players is that of the warrior and one must be able to play through pain.  Yet those who criticize the sport for that mindset should recognize that it is far better to exorcize our aggressive impulses through a child’s game raised to performance art by great athletes, than for armies to clash in the night.

The amount of blood, sweat and tears expended by athletes in order to make it to the professional ranks is extradiornary, you could say super-human.  It requires great discipline, personal sacrifice and the willingness to endure pain along with tedium.  The constant training year in and year out; the endless competition to keep your job, the fickleness of fans, the ridicule of the press, the constant insecurity due to the cold blooded nature of the business, the incessant haranguing of the coaches whose jobs depends upon the success of their team, requires a special person to endure.

Despite the pain and mental anxiety virtually all professional athletes hate to see it end. Many have described the feeling they get in the period following their last game as a kind of disorientation that leaves them with a feeling of hanging in limbo.  The ones who fare best are those who recognize that their athletic careers will not last forever and prepare for a life after sports.  Since all professional players went to college, and many graduated, they can be found making contributions in all walks of life: law, medicine, business, education, politics, broadcasting, etc.  But some never find another passion to replace sports.

But in either case whether they move on and master new fields of endeavor, or spend the rest of their lives as a formerly great athlete sucking up every last bit of admiration from fans, recognition by induction into the Hall of Fame is a high point of their lives.  You can see it in the emotions expressed by two of this year’s inductees: Defensive Tackle Warren Sapp and wide receiver Chris Carter.  Both are men from humble circumstances for whom the game of football provided a fabulous life.

Although Sapp made it into the Hall on a first ballot vote, and Carter had to wait years to be inducted, both men have been seen laughing and crying on national television when they talk about its meaning in their lives.  Sapp is writing his speech but Carter has decided to speak straight from the heart, and their friends and colleagues are taking bets on who will cry first.

Warren Sapp: Relentless!
Sapp on the Attack
Even losing his Helmet will not deter Sapp’s attack
Wide Receiver Chris Carter Genuflecting before Hall Of Famers!
Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers
He’s Really Glad to be in this Fraternity!

There have been many moving speeches from the inductees and those who introduce them in these ceremonies, and some even have the power to inspire people to pursue their dreams in all walks of life and not be defeated by setbacks.  After all, these are men who had thrived in the Darwinian world of sports where only the strongest competitors survived.

One thinks of a speech given by the great wide receiver with the World Champion Dallas Cowboys Michael Erving.  With tears flowing down his cheeks he talked about the obstacles he had overcome on his journey to the Football Hall of Fame.  He said to everybody who had been beaten down and told they were not good enough to achieve their goals: “Tell them to get up, look up….and never give up!”  Listening to him I thought of the words Langston Hughes, the late Poet Laureate of Harlem: “Hold fast to dreams/for if Dreams die /Life becomes like a bird with a broken wing / And cannot fly.”

Chris Carter Snatched balls with Fly Paper Hands
And it helped him overcome myriad adversities



Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 3, 2013

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