Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson


     There is one you know.  I better way I mean.  When faced with the choices life sometimes forces us to make, in most all situations we only see “yes” or “no.”  Most of us – especially men - tend to see things as “go” or “no,” “on” or “off,” “black” or “white.” So many times however, there is a better way – a higher path that is more powerful than all other choices combined.
     On Friday night, the kid won the game almost single-handedly.  He lifted the entire team up on his small shoulders and carried them all to a place they had never been – a better place inside themselves.  He helped them see they were more than they knew.  He ran his heart out that night, and if he threw an interception, he bounced right back filling the air with perfect spirals, and eventually, the unthinkable happened.  Victory!  The team repaid his valiant efforts by carrying him off the field on their shoulders.  What a memory that time still is in my mind.  The night we watched a young man completely surpass himself like some modern day warrior in the battles of long ago.  The next day his world would came crashing down.
     His dad was one of the most successful men in our small town.  The next morning in coffee shops, cafes, and around old barn stoves, the talk of the young man’s heroics took a back seat to the stunning news of his dad’s business collapse.  This family had a palatial mansion – with bar stools in the indoor swimming pool!  Yet, so went the gossip, their water and electricity would cease to flow within the week.  The cut-off notices were on the kitchen table.  Now the young warrior would be called not to save the game…but to save his family.
     His dad was so despondent he talked openly of taking his life.  Our hero quietly left the house, and spent the day searching out small business owners in the community.  He asked each one not for pity or charity, but for a job.  Finally, one agreed.  The young man then went to the coach and explained he must miss one day of practice.  The coach listened, then responded, “If you miss practice, you will not play Friday night.”  The boy accepted the coach’s decision and left.  That’s where I came in.  I went to see the coach.
     In bumbling and stumbling fashion, I tried to offer some reasons why this approach might not be in the best interest of the young player or the team.  The coach was less than pleased.
     “If I don’t have discipline, I have nothing,” he said sharply.
     “But maybe this time, in this situation, there may be more important…”
     “I don’t need some parent telling me how to do my job!” he snapped.
     “I don’t mean to be doing that,” I said.  “This is not about my son.  This boy is trying to save his family…”
     “I don’t tell you how to do your job!” he repeated, his voice now loud.
     And the young man missed practice, and he didn’t play on Friday night.  And the team didn’t win another game for the remainder of the season.
     Hold that thought.
     Years before the incident I just described happened, there was another coach faced with precisely the same events.  This other coach was just beginning his career when a young player came into his office and said, “Coach, I have to miss practice.”
     “Why?” asked the coach.
     “Because,” the young player said, “my daddy is a sharecropper.  The cotton is ready.  He can’t get the crop in by himself.  He’s too old.  He’s sacrificed everything for me to come to this school and for me to play football.  When I got on the bus to come here, he said, ‘All our hopes are riding on you.’  My daddy can’t get that crop in without me.  So, I’m sorry, but I have to miss practice.”
     The coach said nothing, and the young man left.
     The next day, as the old man and his son prepared to gather the crop, they noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon.  Shortly, they realized the dust was being produced from a long line of cars, all of which made their way to the farm and then stopped.  From those cars emerged the entire Grambling football team, complete with coach Eddie Robinson at the front of the line.  The coach who had suspended football practice and asked his players if they would help one of their own in his time of need.  All the players agreed to go.    

     Coach Eddie Robinson became a legend at Grambling, and it’s easy to see why.
     The other coach never won much, and eventually left the profession…and it’s easy to see why.  

                                                                                         -- Michael Johnson   



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