College football has returned, accompanied by its close associates Jubilation and Heartbreak. In the midst of the soaring emotions, some players are lifted to the status of demigod, while others are berated ceaselessly and deemed nearly unworthy of life. If you cheer for Florida State, Texas, or Alabama, you may believe that your players can do no wrong and deserve heaping praise. If you’re from Oklahoma or Southern Cal, you might be wondering why we even gave them scholarships in the first place. But I’m here to remind both parties, the worshippers and the demonizers, that these young men, regardless of their performance, are more than football players.
In athletics, it is so easy to slip into letting yourself be defined by what you do (I’ve touched on this before). But why is that? It’s because in athletics there is a scoreboard. A scoreboard that clearly states whether you were a success or a failure on any given day. A scoreboard that objectively measures what seems to be your worth and competency to the rest of the world. The set of numbers is plastered across the big screen during, and then it goes home with you after. It’s the ESPN alert on your phone. It’s running across the bottom of your TV. It’s strewn across every social media platform. The set of numbers that define your existence. So, for player and fan alike, let me remind you: athletes are more than a number.
More than a scoreboard.
More than a jersey number.
More than a stat line.
But there is something else that needs to be understood. Something I don’t think people talk about enough when it comes to the athlete identity. As an athlete, you don’t trade one false identity for another. You don’t lay down one set of numbers, only to pick up a different set. If I am not defined by the scoreboard, my jersey number, or my stat line, neither am I defined by my GPA, my test scores, my degree, or by my number of community service hours. Don’t get me wrong. All of those things can reflect positively on a person, but they don’t do any more to evaluate the character of a person than the athletics numbers do. Even in community service oriented activities, the number of hours may reflect participation, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect the state of a person’s heart, which is what matters when you’re giving of yourself. My point is that any set of numbers cannot effectively measure a person’s value in this world.
So if you’re going to judge who I was as a student-athlete, don’t look at the win-loss record or the personal athletic accolades.
Don’t look at how fast I graduated or what my GPA was.
Don’t look at any of my Mr. Nice Guy awards.
If you’re going to judge me, judge me based on two things:
How I treat other people on a daily basis, particularly people from which I have nothing to gain.
How I used the platform I was given to make an impact on the world around me.
The numbers don’t tell the story, for myself or for the millions of other current and former athletes around the nation.
So whether you’re watching football in Norman or in Stillwater, in Tuscaloosa or in Ann Arbor, remember that the young men have faces under those helmets, and that their identities and their stories cannot be confined to any number.