How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I carry sorrow in my soul,
grief in my heart day after day?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look upon me, answer me, Lord, my God!
Give light to my eyes lest I sleep in death,
Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”
lest my foes rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in your mercy.
Grant my heart joy in your salvation,
I will sing to the LORD,
for he has dealt bountifully with me!
The sun is shining in Tuscaloosa this Sunday morning, but there is an unmistakable void — that same feeling you get when you go to the grocery store and despite going over your list over and over, you have this inkling that you’re forgetting something, and the next thing you know, you’re halfway down Lurleen Wallace & come to the realization that you got every ingredient for chicken tacos except the chicken.
Yes, friends, our beloved Tuscaloosa Chuy’s has shuttered its doors.
Where are we going to get NACHOS from the inside of a car trunk!? What are they going to do with the door handles that are made up of burritos! You can’t just put a BRYANT BANK there! What are they going to do with all of the EPHEMERA? You can’t just send everything back to corporate and/or The Summit! Where are undergrads going to get a part-time server job for three weeks and then quit in the middle of their shift because some family of seven who is in town for the GYMNASTICS MEET said some very NON-GYMNASTICS things when denied their fourteenth bowl of jalapeño ranch!?
Also, our Polynesian Football Polymath suffered a brutal hip injury that surely spells the end of his football career here at the University of Alabama. I MAKE JOKES BECAUSE I’M REALLY FUCKING SAD ABOUT IT.
Saturday’s game was one of those games where you feel awful for putting your hopes and dreams and general well-being into a brutal and barbaric sport where 18–21 year-olds sacrifice their ACLs for a preconceived notion of glory and for our entertainment. When 13 started rolling left, I audibly yelled out “shit” in my living room to no one, because I knew that it wasn’t going to end well — it seemed like a frame-by-frame recreation of the injury against Tennessee. When the trainers came out to put a towel over his face to stop bleeding, I honestly thought “oh good, it’s just a broken nose, he’ll be fine,” as if someone getting their face broken is a GOOD thing roll tide! It all felt tremendously shitty, and that was before I realized he couldn’t put any weight on his leg. The ESPN ambulance chasing.
Look, I have a chronic pain issue that causes my leg to completely lock up to the point where I can barely walk without assistance. I don’t want to go out in public when this happens because I don’t want anyone to even TALK to me about this — I just desperately want to be left alone. Being in brutal pain and having STEVE LEVY provide shitty insight and commentary on how I am trying to hobble to the bathroom is literally my fucking nightmare. Even GARY has enough home training to put on his soft spoken bullshit Fox NFL Sunday somber piano remix voice while being like “oh my. oh goodness. he’s hurt. that’s a shame” as opposed to BIG STEVE’S constant inability to control THE VOLUME OF HIS VOICE who does he think he is, ME IN THESE COLUMNS!?
I keep coming back to the concept of game theory these past few weeks, so forgive me if you’ve heard me spout this before: the philosopher Johan Huizinga, has a belief that all games or contest take place within “the magic circle,” meaning a space that adheres to its own set of rules. The football field is a temporary world in our actual world. Like, if the only goal in football was to 1. adhere to the concept of play and 2. get a egg shaped sphere across a makeshift plane, Gus Malzahn would have running backs have their arms amputated and replaced with massive sawblades and just straight up murder people for the Auburn Family (tm). And he’d still probably go 8–4!
Here’s the thing though: while an interesting concept, the magic circle, or at least how we perceive the magic circle is a fallacy — the circle is constantly being breached in both directions — the real world can influence the game world, and the game world can also influence the real world. Game worlds and real worlds aren’t binary.
To be a fan of football is to find yourself wrapped up in the binary: we are outside of the circle and act as observers. To believe in the magic circle is to believe in some semblance of removal of agency from the players. This is one of the main critiques of football (especially in regards to its marketing) because their faces are obscured, unlike in NBA where we are able to see reactions and emotions. Football players are referred to by their numbers by analysts and coaches: 6, 74, 22, 13.
It’s easy to forget about humanity: this is obviously one of the things at the crux of the profiting off of an athletes likeness debate — a 13 jersey is not a Tagovailoa jersey. A 22 can mean Najee, or Mark Ingram, or Tony Nathan. We believe that our freshmen linebackers struggling has everything to do with football and being young — there is no room to consider their lives outside of the game itself; that they are away from home for the first time, that they have been regarded as a football wunderkind and now they are put in difficult situations on an incredibly large stage, not to mention they’re balancing family, and school, and friendships and relationships. We all enjoy fluff pieces on GameDay that put the “humanity” back into certain players, but it always comes back to this dumb game that we love so much: it’s as if to say “here’s a reminder that some things are more important than football,” because it is so so easy to forget.
In these moments, when we put the game above the people playing the game, when we feel the most helpless. Within minutes, analysts were like “well, the College Football Selection Committee isn’t going to pick Alabama now,” & we all instantly went FUCK YOU A 20-YEAR-OLD KID IS BARELY IN THE AMBULANCE but we all also went “yeah, he’s right, goddammit, can Mac Jones get the job done idk”. The whole thing sucks. A lot.
I also teach a lot of student-athletes (about 20%), who come with their own set of challenges due to the extreme amount of pressure on them, as well as an insanely regimented schedule. They are constantly being monitored & respond well to constant check-ins. Due to my large amount of student-athletes, I’ve actually completely reformatted my pedagogical stance to teaching composition: lots of small checkpoints and one-on-one meetings and discussions! (Generation Z reacts well to small checkpoints and rewards as well as conversation/work time! It’s almost as if the multimillion dollar conglomerate that is dependent on achieving consistent results for sustained success has done some research into this stuff & it is worth stealing! Who knew!?) It’s been great — I feel more connected to my entry-level students. We’re all in this boat together.
I am fortunate enough to have the greatest job in the world (I am not compensated enough for my labor much like these college athletes but THAT’S A STORY FOR ANOTHER TIME). I get to interact and help this new generation of leaders make the transition from young adult to adult. Sometimes they learn some shit about ethos and/or Sylvia Plath! It’s great. Sadly, there are a lot of people in academia who treat their students as this giant amorphous blob of awful — I’ll admit, it is easy to do this; I have class periods where everyone is on the struggle bus after Wine Wednesday and it’s easy to group them all into one thing. But the truth is, 95% of all students at Alabama are GREAT. The other 5% are projects. It’s a pretty good ratio! I’d say the ratio amongst my fellow faculty members is about 70%-30% on a good day lol
This comment about “these damn kids with rocks in their brains ho ho ho” is especially prevalent when people find out that I teach student-athletes. Everyone is quick to be like “do they even show up to class? lol!” I have fans of other teams be like “can you make sure one of those five-stars aren’t academically eligible ha ha ha”. It sends me into a fucking rage spiral.
Again, this comes from regarding college athletes as monolithic: the (often racist and classist!) stereotype of the dumb and prima donna athlete. We curse our athletes for not being perfect. We are quick to insult intelligence when our cornerbacks don’t look back for the ball (this is an antiquated defensive strategy, boomer, learn A BOOK). It’s so easy to view football as Madden — to celebrate our human abilities to find an open receiver, but also curse the game for an invisible linebacker who leaps up and makes a pick on a crossing route; obviously it wasn’t our fault, it was cheap. The game did it. We knew better.
For me, it is my turn to curse the game. Tua’s Alabama career is over, and it feels cheap — like when you’re seven weeks into a Madden season and your starting QB is out for the year. Quit, load from save point, maybe pull him in the 2nd quarter with a lead, maybe start your backup, maybe run the ball more and put the damage on some other body that seems more expendable.
We also tend to do the reverse too, as we do with all of our heroes: we make them larger than life. We project upon Tua this image of not only an incredible (and holy shit, is he incredible) quarterback, but also an incredible larger-than-life create: someone who constantly puts God and Family first — someone infallible.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Tua over the past two years and the stories you hear about him are true. He is kind and generous with his time. He’s a hugger. He takes selfies and signs autographs with anyone who asks. He cares about other people; thinks nothing of working alongside a star-struck student, but is also more self-aware than many give him credit for.
However, I’m most pleased to report that he is not infallible. He’s a goofball. He’s forgetful. He gets distracted. He is often exhausted. He got addicted to Starbucks for about a month before realizing that just because coffee is available to you doesn’t mean that you should drink it 24/7.
In other words, he’s human.
He’s one of us.