Football players know how to spin straw into gold. They know how to take the tough times and hard hits and turn them all into victory. Into pure gold.
Football has proven to me that alchemy exists. Remember alchemy? The science of legend and starry-eyed madness — that Middle Ages’ fever to turn base matter into precious metal?
It can be done. Football has discovered the secret. But there’s no short-cut, no cheating, no sleight-of-hand or fairy dust or smoke and mirrors. It takes months and months and years and years of dedication, sacrifice, discipline, and hard work.
The transformation is real, but not everybody makes it through to the other side. The process is hard. The grind is grueling. And if you survive it, you transcend it. And the result is pure gold.
But this year, the alchemy may be interrupted.
The hard work — the blood, sweat, tears put in during the off-season — may all get upended. Snatched away before the first opponent is faced. Snatched away by a virus that has completely transformed the world into something none of us recognize. A kind of reverse alchemy where conversation becomes altercation, faith reduced to condemnation, politics spun to propaganda — fueling shutdowns and shouting matches. A virus ending with so much death — of people, civility, relationships.
And in the aftermath of this virus, in an upside-down world, we may lose football for a season.
Robert Frost penned a famous poem about how quickly beauty and youth and life can pass us by — how “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” But I refuse to believe that. Beauty may be fleeting, and youth and life as well, but character is steady. Character remains.
That character is particularly evident in the new movement currently underway to give players input in decision making. One of the leaders of this newly-established #WeWantToPlay initiative is Trevor Lawrence, a player with well-established, 24 karat character.
Trevor is leading the charge to allow Power 5 conferences to play football. His points are valid and well-articulated. These schools have abilities that smaller colleges (and high schools) don’t have. They have the funds to take proper precautions and place programs in bubbles that will isolate and monitor players, their contacts, and their health. While there are still risks, these colleges’ situations are as ideal as it’s possible to be right now.
Still, there would be sacrifices. Beyond the risk of actual contraction are the documented after-effects of COVID-19, including potentially life-altering heart complications. These young adults are willing to make the sacrifice. They are adults, after all. They should have a say. Their voices should be heard.
High school football is another story entirely.
My family is involved with high school football. Our players are not adults. They do, however, know and understand sacrifice. Both the boys and their coaches have sacrificed a lot for the season already — and now they may end up sacrificing their season. It’s a sacrifice they never saw coming; one nobody signed up for.
Sacrifices are hard. In a normal year, football demands countless hours of sweat, blood, tears, bruises, sore muscles, brain power, and lost family and social time. This year, the sacrifices could be far more.
There are no easy answers. Some will have a voice in the choices of sacrifices. Others will not.
But if I’ve learned anything about football, it’s that sacrifice renders gold. If the Power 5 conferences have football, those players and their coaches will spin straw into gold.
And if high school and the smaller conferences don’t have a season, they, too, will spin straw into gold.
Even if the alchemy of football is interrupted… its magic will not be reversed. It will not be halted. It will persist and proclaim itself victorious. These young men and their coaches will come out on the other side stronger.
For all involved in football programs, it’ll sting — and way more than a little bit. It’ll hurt — a lot. For us, football IS fall. But the loss (or unexpected win) of a season won’t cause any of these coaches and players to fall. They know sacrifice. They’ve overcome pain and hardship before.
Because the gold of football is not in the wins, in the trophies or championships, in the college careers or NFL draft picks. No, the pure gold that is forged from football is strength of character. So while the spent blood, sweat, and tears of the off-season may come to nothing, it won’t really come to nothing. Not really.
These players and coaches — from high school to college– have gold pumping in their hearts, fueling their souls, and lighting their wisdom. They are strong, brave, principled, driven, and more flexible than a game plan at halftime.
With or without a season, these programs will be victorious.Their gold will stay.
And even better, their gold will help lead the way out of this dark age and back into light.