I've always wanted to meet you. I can remember holding onto a copy of Friday Night Lights in seventh grade, flipping the page with trembling hands, dying to find out if Boobie was ever gonna make it back onto the field. Dying to know if he would ever reach out and touch his dreams. I can honestly say that that was the first book I've ever loved Buzz. Even now every time I hold the book I flip through it and escape back to Odessa, still dreaming of being a Panther, still dreaming of caring that much about something. I know now what I never did then. That your words made me want to be a writer. That your story changed my life Buzz. And I will always be grateful to you for that.
Which is why I was disappointed to here how you feel about college football Buzz. And not because I love tailgating Mizzou games or would skip a wedding to watch LSU/Alabama. But because I don't understand why you don't see past the game on the field and into the hearts and minds of the people playing on it. I don't understand how the man who brought me Boobie Miles' story could miss out on the purpose of the game that he was playing. How someone like you could separate the mission of the sport from the mission of university, without ever thinking that they might be the exact same thing. Buzz, it looks like you never knew what I know: that, and I am well aware how cliche this sounds, football (like any team sport really) teaches the people that play it more about life than it seems like you ever could imagine.
Because, it seems to me Buzz, that you have missed the entire purpose of the higher education in the first place. You say it's "academics," but that it is only part of it. You see Buzz, the really mission of any college or university worth it's salt isn't just academics. It's learning. Discovering. Growing. Developing. Becoming ready to be productive members of society intellectually, professionally, socially. Becoming ready to be good citizens of the world.
You see I played college football Buzz. And not at one of those big, sleazy football factories that you refer to with such disdain. I played at a liberal arts school with 1,200 kids where football was just slightly higher on the college's totem pole than the very real Qudditch team that existed there. A place where the players went to class, the College president made a significantly higher salary than the head football coach, and less than 100 students filled the Stadium most Saturdays. A place where football mattered very little to the everyday lives of every single person there, besides the 55 or 60 guys who were putting on their pads and going to practice.
This means that you weren't really talking to me in that debate Buzz, and I get that. I have no idea what it's like to exist on a campus where Nick Saban towers over Chemistry professors, admissions directors, everyone but Jesus Christ. But isn't that part of the problem Buzz? That you weren't talking to me? That I, and so many players like me, are non-existent to you? That you want to take our game away from our school just like you want to take away Aaron Murray's?
Maybe you don't Buzz. More than likely you never took us into account. Maybe you think that football can exist at places like small Liberal Arts Colleges and Ivy League schools--places where it will never matter more than learning about environmental economics--and just not in the SEC or Big XII. That's fine Buzz, I get that too. But you're still missing the point.
I had this professor in college, one of the academics you champion so much Buzz, who once told me to never be afraid to tell the world what I learned by participating in inter-collegiate athletics. So I won't be. The laundry list is long Buzz. I can tell you about how me and my teammates never gave up after losing 18 straight games, about how we worked so hard to make our team respectable, about how I made some of the best friends anyone has ever known by sharing a locker room and a huddle. I have hundreds of more sappy cliches I could share with you Buzz.
But instead I'll just focus on one. I'll tell you about how playing football taught me about passion Buzz. About how I went out everyday and got my ass kicked, and pushed a blocking sled, and never missed a practice even though I often daydreamed the whole car ride down to the Stadium that I would, because I loved to play a game. Because I never felt more alive than when I was playing football. About how when you truly do love something, you can commit yourself fully to it, just like how a prospective classics scholar can commit himself to reading Cicero and Homer and Virgil hour after hour because he cares about what they are saying. Because he loves reading and learning about the story that they are telling him.
You can find this passion playing football Buzz, just like you can find it completing a biology lab. Isn't that what college really is for? Not only learning what you care about, but also learning how to care so deeply about something? That even if you can't make money doing what you love, you can always know what it feels like to love and completely devote yourself to whatever you were passionate about? Isn't that knowledge important when we're trying to become a husband that loves his wife, a father that loves his children, or an American who loves his country?
You had this passion once Buzz, I felt it. I held the pages of what will always be the most important book in my life, in many ways my bible, and knew that it was present in your words. Now football may have had no role in helping you find it Buzz, but that doesn't change the fact that it was there. So why would you want to deprive someone else of learning how to feel what you felt?
We all know football itself needs to change, in many ways needs to transform its culture in order for it to be saved from itself. I've said it before. I'll say it now. And let's hope everyone can band together to make the game as safe as we all hope it can be. That's a great challenge facing the sport Buzz. We all acknowledge that we cannot hide from it any longer.
But you also point out another challenger facing the college game Buzz, and one that needs to be taken seriously as well. There's no question that big-time college football is often an unsavory business. That the college game needs some sort of economic and cultural shift to make it more honest, fair and legitimate: to make sure that it is focusing on the right things. That maybe your idea of turning BCS conferences into a minor league system for the NFL, one in which going to school is optional and players are offered "Tutors" like they are a prospect Albert Brooks is trying to sign in The Scout, is the easiest option. That separating an University from its football team is the simplest solution.
But it will never be the best. You may not have been talking to me when you said all those things Buzz, but I am talking to you now. Because whether we (student athletes) are competing for Oberlein College or USC, whether we end up becoming Lawyers, Teachers, Scientists, Best Buy sales associates or NFL Quarterbacks, we are all really the same. We are mostly just a group of kids going to school so we can learn and grow. So we can discover and develop our passion, and translate the blood, sweat and tears it took to push it as far as we could into the rest of our lives.
We are all boys Buzz. Boys who are trying to learn to become men. We do it by going to school. We also do it by playing a game.
Subtracting one from the other won't help us, you, or the institution of higher learning we chose to attend Buzz. In fact it will harm all three.
Because we are here to learn. And the things we experience in college are meant to teach us. Going to class and studying is surely a significant part of that. But so is moving away from home, meeting new people, becoming active in extra curricular activities (like student government, a varsity/club/IM sports team, a greek organization, or a special interest group) or figuring out how to work a George Foreman grill. That list includes football.
That's what college is supposed to be about Buzz: learning. And that's why most of us are here. Because, as you taught me so long ago, true learning requires passion. And when the two come together, it can lead to some pretty great results.
It can lead to us discovering what higher education is all about in the first place. That's what you should be telling us Buzz. Instead you just want to toss us out so others, in your mind, will learn Political Theory or American Literature better.
And we will learn nothing about it at all.