I grew up playing football. From the fifth grade, through junior high, high school and college I committed my late summer and fall afternoons to running, throwing, tackling and blocking on a football team. I grew to understand why football is a great metaphor for life; football hurts. Even a well-executed tackle will hurt not just he who is tackled but he who does the tackling. Then there’s the getting knocked down by a blocker, the getting stepped on in the line, the banging of head to head thinking a helmet will protect you. Take my word for it, it doesn’t. Skinned elbows, knees, shins, are part and parcel of any practice. Running until you puke, mostly because the cafeteria served spaghetti or sloppy Joes for for lunch. So yeah, football hurts but so does life and that’s why you find all those great football metaphors that, regrettably, many people do not understand.
The hurt of football isn’t just the physical pain of a collision sport but there’s a psychological aspect that is even more unappreciated than the metaphors. See, there are three kinds of football players on every team. There are those who know they will play and receive the accolade for winning; there are those who expect to play, these are the sophomores and juniors who are second string and expect to move up and become starters; then there are those who hope to play, but many won’t. These are the long-suffering scrubs who show up every day and give up their bodies to make the starters the players they are. They are tackled, blocked, screamed at, ridiculed and don’t even get to wear a letter sweater or jacket around campus. These are the people who experience the most both physically and psychologically, yet these are the most important people on the team for without their contributions the starters wouldn’t be who they are. The better these people are in practice, the better the starters will be in a game.
So in choosing a metaphor let us say that the majority of people you find in society are like the third stringers and practice squad members of a football team. They are the ‘hopeful’ but they understand that just going through the paces won’t make the team better so they strive to be the best “blocking dummies” they can be. They learn to tolerate the verbal and physical abuse and still keep coming back, practice after practice, day after day, season after season. They may never take the field but without them the team cannot win.
Take heart then; if you find yourself being a blocking or tackling dummy and hope that you will, someday, make the starting team know that you are not just an integral part of society but an absolute necessity whether you get a letter sweater or not.