I almost never watch football, but I loved playing it in my youth. It’s what kept me going through those long hours in totalitarian, worker bee, compulsory slave camps called high school — where everything wrong in the world is shoved down your throat, smack in the middle of a free society.
It was that time of day where I got to live free — when I had the opportunity to push myself to my physical limit, run into someone full speed, fall down, get up, and do it again.
I left high school football with two important lessons under my belt.
It was the spring of my junior year of high school. While still juniors, we were now the “seniors” of the football team since the former seniors were well on their way out of high school.
One still liked to workout with us as a team though, despite his football career being officially over. The coaches did not have a problem with this, so he worked out with us a few times per week.
Unfortunately this senior was a “bully” in the classical sense.
This manifested one day when the coaches were not around, and he began picking on one of my teammates in front of the gym — a teammate with a bad attitude, that didn’t get along with anyone, but kept to himself more often than not.
It started out harmless enough. Then the senior got a bit more aggressive, eventually pushing my teammate to the ground, and spitting in his face when he got back up.
Not so harmless.
My teammate opted to walk away, back towards the gym which they had gradually moved away from.
The bully followed, as did the rest of the team that gathered to watch the spectacle. Now in a corridor underneath a small stadium, things got serious — no coaches in sight.
The bully — who was much larger and stronger than my teammate — grabbed my teammate by the shirt, and nearly lifted him off the ground.
He was half a second away from knocking his teeth out when I looked around, and was stunned to see the entire team, not just doing nothing, but actually backing away from the incident — including the captains.
Which is when I involuntarily grabbed the inside of the bully’s forearm, and squeezed as tight as I could, until he let go of my teammate.
At about half a foot taller, he stared down at me. I stared back, knowing full well he was seconds away from punching me, with the entire team standing by playing silent cheerleader.
Then a coach came running, right before a fight broke out between us.
This was the first time in my life I intervened on the behalf of another. I did not do it for my teammate — I did it for my own sake. By my own free will, I stopped what I perceived as a hideous atrocity.
The fact that an entire team stood by to watch, only added fuel to my fire to see what was right in the world. No matter how annoying, I was not ready to watch a teammate who I had grown up with in school and on the team, become physically injured by an initation of force.
I am not my brother’s keeper, but that doesn’t mean I have to stand by and watch the shit get kicked out of him. I had an option, and I made what I saw as the right choice at the right time.
2. The spirit of the individual is invincible
The Spring of my freshmen year of high school, we had a mini season that included a few weeks of practice, and a two-game-in-one-night exhibition against neighboring teams.
During the second week of practice — our first week of practicing full contact — it was in excess of 100 degrees F, and humid as can be in South West Florida.
On the second day of practice that week, we were doing a drill that involved 2 people lying on the ground, getting up as fast as possible, running full speed at each other, and overpowering your opponent.
“Hamburger drills” if I remember right.
These were not new, but we had never done them in this high of heat before, nor had we ever done them for an unusually long amount of time.
We did them for so long people actually started dropping out and sprawling out on the ground — making the drills repeat that much more for those of us that remained.
This typically was never allowed, but I think our coaches wanted to see who lasted the longest out of the initial group.
Eventually, there were only a handful of us left.
Eventually, the rest of the team stopped what they were doing, and gathered to watch.
Eventually, there were only two of us left — myself, and a teammate of the same age and year, and similar in size and strength.
Being the only ones doing the drill was pretty brutal. We simply ran into each other full speed, and would “fight” until the coach supervising the drill blew the whistle.
When it was only us, neither of us lost — we both won each and every round.
We turned around, laid on the ground, and repeated the drill. Again, and again, and again, and again … Both of us, I think, determined to keep doing the drill no matter what.
There was a point that I was so tired, so bruised, and in so much pain I actually started laughing inside (because I couldn’t spare the breath).
I wondered if I was becoming delirious, which is exactly when I started fighting harder and running faster than I had previously — fully convinced that I could not be beaten.
Not by my opponent, not by my coaches, and not by the physical limits of my body.
Looking back, it was not a miracle that we didn’t pass out or have a “heat stroke” — it was the power of a fully focused and fully conscious mind on a single goal — the goal to finish what we started no matter what.
Some call this integrity.
I prefer to state that the spirit of the individual is invincible.
When your body begins to fail, when your ability is not enough, when society does it’s best to bring you down — there’s still you, and if you so choose, you can’t be beaten.
Man can achieve.
— Anthony Dream Johnson