My Letter To Lance Easley: I’m Sorry

To Lance Easley, former NFL referee,

I’m sorry. That’s the first and final thing I want you to know. It’s the point of this letter. I’m sorry for what has happened to you. And I’m sorry for the part I played in your pain.

I should give you some context. For starters, I once hated you. Okay, hate seems too strong a word. But I was very angry at you. It was only briefly, but very angry nonetheless. Strange thing is, until recently, I didn’t even know your name. But I was still angry.

Because I’m a Green Bay Packers fan. I’ve always been a Packers fan, ever since I was seven-years-old, when Brett Favre lead them to their third Super Bowl victory. I watched the game with my father, yelling loudly and running around the room in my knock-off kiddie jersey. Since then I’ve cheered the Packers through interceptions and touchdowns galore, through losing seasons, rebuilding years and to another Super Bowl. I even married a girl from Green Bay, a die-hard Packer fan herself (thus she understands my impulse to wear cheese on my head once a week).

The point is: I’ve seen a lot of Packer games, a lot of wins and losses. And I can’t remember most of them.

But I’ll never forget the Monday night game from September of 2012.

On that day, the Packers had a five-point lead on the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson, now an NFL superstar, was just a rookie and had barely beat out Aaron Rodgers’ previous backup, Matt Flynn, for the starting position. The two teams had been gridlocked in a defensive battle but Seattle was driving down the field, praying for a touchdown to win the game. And as time ran out, Wilson lobbed a pass to the left corner of the end zone towards Seahawks receiver Golden Tate. M.D. Jennings, a Green Bay defender, also jumped. Jennings actually caught the ball, but Tate got a hand on it. The two fell to the ground in a desperate struggle. You ran up and ruled the pass a touchdown. Another referee called it incomplete. Commotion ensued, and you had to review the play.

Announcers commented that the touchdown had to be overruled. Sports experts confirmed these insights, all while you watched the replay under the hood. But then you trotted out onto the field and gave the ruling.

And you said it was a touchdown. Time had expired. Seattle won.

At about that moment I was jumping around my apartment, like a grasshopper with caffeine, propelling myself of every stable surface in the room. And I was yelling, yelling bloody murder, yelling until I woke my roommate and he tackled me then stuck a sock down my throat.

I just couldn’t believe it. What an awful call.

But then, a strange thing happened: the next day I woke up and I was okay. I ate breakfast; I went to class; I worked out. It was a normal day. A good day even. Life went on.

But it didn’t for you.

You suffered constant siege from the media, mockery from comedians, and berating from NFL fans across the country. You were thrust from your private life working for Bank of America, doubling as a referee for high school football and small college basketball games, into the limelight of scandal.

Things got worse. Your struggle with depression reared its ugly head, fueled with public ammunition. You suffered intense panic attacks. You slipped into dangerously suicidal condition, requiring hospitalization. You were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. You lost your career and, even worse, your marriage.

All because of one call, during one game, at the beginning of one season of football.

Don’t get me wrong: I love football. I played football for most of my life. This was in Ohio, by the way, where football is life. As a male within this culture, it was expected that on Friday night I be on the field, in the band, or smooching with a coed under the bleachers. Riding the bench, however, was about as respectable an option as ordering tofu at a steakhouse. Thus football became my life. I worked my butt off to little success. And without a butt I even did a miserable job of warming the bench.

Without athletic success to balloon my identity, I was forced to learn a simple but poignant lesson: it’s just a game. A fun game, an admirable game even, but just a game nonetheless. But the pathetic reality of our culture, and the culture of my youth within it, is that we’ve turned a game into something much bigger than a game.

The golden calf of my youth.
The golden calf of my youth.

Because professional football is, undeniably, an industry. Millions of dollars exchanged hands in Vegas following the ‘fail Mary’ play. Fantasy leagues across the country were disrupted. Negative publicity cost the NFL thousands of dollars and proved to be a critical tipping point in negotiations with their officiating unions.

And when a culture elevates something recreational, something of tertiary importance for our existence to a false level of primacy, there is always collateral. Such idols tend to fall and fall hard.

And this time you were the collateral, you were beneath our crashing idol.

And so I want to apologize because it’s my fault, our fault. Every single person watching the fateful play on the Monday night feeds into the culture of marketed entertainment. We’re all wheels in the machine that produces this idol. And we all, without hesitation, found ourselves willing to sacrifice the dignity and respect of a human being as a necessary means.

It’s a sad day – pitiful really- when people place their idols above fellow humanity. And you bore the brunt of all our idolization.

And so I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry for all the pain you’ve endured at our expense; for the turmoil our idolization has caused to you. I’m sorry. And I’m thankful that you were courageous enough to share your story, to once again make your self available to the scorn and mockery of sentiments like: “Seriously? You made a shitty call- of course people are gonna be mad! Get over it!”

I’m sorry. And I’ll remember you in my prayers. And when I do I’ll give thanks, not for your pain, but for your willingness to be vulnerable in your pain. With that vulnerability I hope you’ll convict and remind all of us with the pertinent truth: it’s just a game. Treat it as such.

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Sincerely,

A Cheesehead

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Rain, Pain & Grace That’s Quenched

 

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I fell asleep on the floor of our family room last night, curled up right next to the couch. My exile from our matrimonial bed was not because I happened to call my wife fat or tell her that her baking tastes like charcoal; she’s not and it doesn’t and (may the record please show) I didn’t. It’s difficult to explain it, but when I have a migraine that keeps me from sleeping I often find myself wandering around in a state of restlessness, commonly collapsing in a random location that somehow feels comfortable in the moment. And then sleep finally comes. I’d be lying to you if I told you these tendencies weren’t a little strange, even too me; they’re peculiar, really. But so is pain; so is life.

Lately these peculiarities have been much more common than usual. Over the past few months I’ve had endless doctor appointments, lab tests, new prescriptions and screenings all in an attempt to find a way to control or alleviate some of the pain caused by chronic migraines. Blessedly, there has been some relief. This shouldn’t be a surprise but grace often is.

And lately it’s come in the form of rain.

“What’s the weather today?” My wife asks, as she’s getting dressed and I’m making her coffee.

“Clouds. Chance of rain.”

“Seriously? Again?”

She rolls her eyes though I try not to let her see my smile, adding an extra pinch of sugar to her morning coffee, to help her survive the grace that’s been given to me.

Which goes to say that one of the peculiarities I’ve come to embrace has been my affinity for overcast weather. Someone who has never had a migraine cannot understand what its like to be oppressed by sunshine, for it’s rays to reach through their eye-sockets and pound itself around in your skull, like your cranium is playing racquetball with a grenade.

I often find myself listening to people daydream about their plans to move somewhere like San Diego or the Caribbean, to a locale that absorbs the sun’s rays nine days out of ten. I want to ask: “Why the hell would you do that to yourself?” But I withhold. Not because of prudence or self-control, mind you, but because the older I get the more I learn how convincing others to adopt my tastes is either fruitless or results in my ultimately getting less of them for myself. Thus, I shut up. Let them move to Florida; it’s less rain on my rainy parade here.

It’s not that I don’t sympathize. I have several friends who suffer from seasonal depression; cloud cover for them is like bright sunshine into my blood-shot eyes. And sometimes I feel like my prayers for grace compete for theirs like two friends who’ve grown up and now have young boys playing on opposing football teams; we both call the lads “winners” but reality tell us that one of them is going to walk away defeated.

And maybe grace does compete with itself. That said, I’m often reminded of what the poet Jay Parini said, reflecting on rainfall from his own window: “my thirst for something more than I can see is briefly quenched.”

To live at all is to feel pain; the tree of life has thorns on it, of this I am convinced. And after the fall those thorns grew for thousands of years till they were sharp enough to pierce the brow of our Savior before he was crucified. A crown of thorns, crown of pain, crown of life conquering death.

Which is to say that the relief of pain isn’t always grace; sometimes grace is the pain itself. And when I consider this, I see the rain as grace for everyone, not just me. Perhaps this is my way of feeling less remorse over my child wining the football match. Or, perhaps grace always is the winner. We’ve just forgotten that there’s no scoreboard, that we’re on the same team.

And this consideration also forces me to see my own pain as a richer grace, a deeper grace, than even it’s relief. If living is pain, then it is also thirst. Thirst for something more, something beyond, something for which I would not yearn if I did not thirst. And that’s a remarkable thing. For thirst must be quenched, will be quenched- if only we keep on thirsting.

And when I awoke on the floor early this morning my headache had, for the moment, abated. And today the sun came out and my wife was happy; grace was shining upon her. And I can bear it, even if my head begins to throb again. Because when grace falls, it falls on all of us, not just some.

And perhaps pain is just the eyes to see it.

When One Of My Seminary Friends Admits They See A Counselor

I’m Like:

Because we’re all human. Ministers and counselors deal with heavy stuff; we’re preparing for (if not already) immersed in a life of serving others. We need to do so with an emotional base that is healthy; just like doctors should probably also see a doctor now and then, so seminary students are wise and prudent to keep good tab on their emotional health.

And sometimes we just need help. Sometimes there’s issues we can’t deal with alone, things we can’t just pray away or talk out in support groups. That’s why counselors exist, that’s why psychologists and medicines are out there.

Getting help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of humility and strength. And it will only aid you in your service to others down the road.

If you have any suspicion that you might be facing some emotional or mental struggles, please don’t hesitate to get the support you need.

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