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Monday, September 16, 2013

NY Jets #67 - Part 3

I have no idea where the human soul is located, or of what it is made. Is it of non-corporeal, spiritual substance, of the weight of an angel's wings? Is it the content of our breath in a sneeze? Is it our mind, constantly wrangling over issues of wrong and right? Dr. Duncan Macdougall in 1907 attempted to weigh the body immediately before and after death to discover the weight of the soul that had departed the moribund unfortunates he weighed. The loss he found was 21 grams.

Though Ed McGlasson #67 and Kareem McKenzie #67 might not pursue it in quite the same way, I feel like they are after the same goal - to save people's souls. One of them believes that the soul is an eternal substance, moving on in the afterlife to whichever place fits a person's choices and beliefs. Another believes that what we call the soul is the mind, the experiences of our life in cerebral form, whether damaged, misled, or controlled by violence and pain, and healed by the simple acts of talking and listening.

Ed Tandy McGlasson played one season apiece for the Jets, the Rams and the Giants before initially retiring in 1981. Today he is a minister with a congregation he founded called the "Stadium Vineyard" in California. His biography is at the church's website. The key to his story seems to be the death of his own father in 1956 and the kindness shown to him afterwards by his stepfather.

In his ministry McGlasson talks about a struggling person's relationship with God as similar to finding a missing father. Another moment that he brings up seems to be the knee injury he suffered in college at Youngstown State, which healed in such a way that he became converted to evangelical Christianity. Then, at CBN's 700 Club, one finds a feature on him where he discusses playing the Eagles' training camp in 1983 and then hearing God call to him to become a minister, which he was reluctant to do, at least until he blew out his knee the next day.

For me, the struggle is to see into the life of things without always having to identify an absolute explanation for why anything happens outside of my control. I've been told once or twice by people with good intentions that my reasoning is flawed and that I should understand that everything happens for a specific reason in life. But it's no use. I am not a convert to anything, sadly. Just as I have given no real allegiance to anything other than to a failing football team, I find myself unpersuaded to become a member of any club that would have me. I don't think I'm better than anyone else - just a little wary to be led to falsely interpret a signal that is nothing more than a light, a sound, or a gesture randomly made in passing.

But people are brought to where they're brought, and I've always wondered if people like Ed McGlasson resent or pity people like me. Does he think he can coexist in the same world as I? Does he just look at me as an unfortunate person destined for the flames? Perhaps he sees God's role in his life as similar to the one his stepfather played when he was a boy:

“He came to me one day and asked me what I wanted to do,” Ed says. “I said, ‘Well, I want to be a pro football player.’ He smiled at me and didn’t say anything. The next day I remember being woken up at 5 a.m. with a Sears air horn. Woke me out of bed. He takes me and drops me four miles from my house. He looks at me and says, ‘Son, if you’re going to make this dream, you’ve got to build a ladder to your dream one rung at a time. If you’ll run every day, five days a week throughout high school, you’ll hit your dream.’”

Being awakened with a horn is an image you find throughout the Bible. It's one that ministers always love. His stepfather made a dramatic gesture that lots of seemingly indolent adolescents actually crave - the extremity of a clear, unambiguous signal. When I was a boy, I looked for these all the time, hoping to be awakened and persuaded to live in one way - If you do this, this will happen, and you will become this and never doubt yourself again.

McGlasson's smile is welcoming. His church seems like a standard Southern California evangelical one. He addresses his congregation in casual attire. He has a smiling family. I hope that he genuinely helps people. He offers a denunciation of gay life that's a little less depraved than many of the other ones I've read, but it's still homophobic.

His recent tweet to Tim Tebow is great:

@timtebowtim I was also cut from the NY Jets and played for Coach B at the giants. We had the same problem with John 3:16 Proud of you!

American football - with its ferocity, violence and unease - has always been a place for converts to total transformations, like the one Ed McGlasson claims he experienced at the Eagles training camp. In all the fulminations these past few months over the Jets and their disarray, his shout-out to Tebow is my favorite. Being cut by the Jets and playing for Bill Belichick is, apparently, a sign of God's will for those who love Him. By virtue of this brief exchange - gone without a reply from Tebow himself - the Jets appear to represent the world of the wicked and lost, those to whom love and charity are nothing more than a sounding gong. And, sadly, I'm still at home in this world, rooting for the Jets to win against all odds, maybe even those divinely ordained.

***

Kareem McKenzie's best days of play were with the New York Giants. Go ahead and do an image search for him, and he will appear wearing #67 in nothing but Blue. He initially played four seasons for us and then as a Giant, helping to win two Super Bowl victories over New England, and for that he always will have my deepest gratitude, much the way the 1983 Seattle Seahawks will always have my thanks for eliminating the Miami Dolphins from the playoffs, even if for many years Seattle had the best record against the Jets.

When the Giants cut him in March 2012, McKenzie wondered about his future. According to the Fifth Down, he decided to not watch much football because it felt "like watching your ex-wife dance with her new husband." By the time the new season began, he was already beginning to prepare for the GRE's so that he could begin his study for an advance degree in psychology.

At the above Fifth Down link, McKenzie says that his goal is to provide counseling help to former NFL players who were having difficulty acclimating to life after football. He admits that many players use alcohol to manage anxiety and depression from living a world without absolute rules or procedures. But I like that MacKenzie addresses the larger disorientation a player experiences when his career is often done, well before the age of 30:

“Let’s be honest...Players in the N.F.L. are being graded and judged every single day. Their careers can end on any given day. There are people asking things of them, demanding things of them, coming to them for money. If you can’t explain how you’re being affected by things, they just pile up. And I want to be able to help players avoid that.”

If nothing else, the bizarre and troubled lives of many players are, in MacKenzie's view, the result of  having so many people constantly judge them over and over on the basis of something other than the character, or the substance of their souls. He suggests that players have to learn how to talk about what "pile(s) up" in what they experience of the game. The relentlessness of never being good enough, of not being strong enough, of being threatened by the possibility of being replaced by someone else who is probably better than you - none of this is really similar to the actual moment-by-moment experience of everyday human life. At best, half of ordinary life is merely showing up, while at worst we are sometimes expendable no matter how good we are. Life is not football - it's actually more ambiguous and complicated. I hope Kareem McKenzie is successful in helping former players negotiate it all the way through.

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