Essay of the Week: Football’s Unexpected Lesson

By Brian F Bond

“Hike”

My quarterback’s command became a magnet for butterflies in my stomach. I barely moved. It was my first time taking a hard tackle playing ‘Peewee.’  I was floored. But then my teammate pulled me up, patted me on the back, and I took a deep breath to regain my bearings. After a minute, I was raring to go again. The metaphor for life was obvious. It was one of the first of many life lessons from football.

Since I was 9, the sport became a defining part of my character, evolving into more than just a game for me. Football was the source of my drive, focus and posed the biggest test ever to my ethics and morality.

By 8th grade, football was the centerpiece of my reputation. The next step for someone in my position was to enroll at a private boys school known throughout the country as a premier football institution. I attended a friday night game on an official recruitment visit. I stood on the field with all the players, decked out in great gear, in a fan-packed stadium. It was like an SEC college game. I could already see myself in a year: lights on, people cheering and chanting. The allure was breathtaking.

Those Friday night lights flickered the next week on my tour at the school. I spent ‘a day in the life’ of a student-athlete with a freshman football player. In my guide’s history class, the teacher’s first move was to issue the detention slips. Then, he announced and passed out a pop quiz. The room simmered with tension, even animosity.

I watched awkwardly from my desk, which felt more and more like an island, as my guide struggled, often just fidgeting, staring at the blank page. Poor guy got caught off guard, I thought. But my empathy ended soon as he sat up, straining his neck to look at others’ papers for answers. He blatantly tapped the person sitting in front of him on the back multiple times signaling for answers as if they were audibles. Some demurred. Others slid their tests over towards him. A few whispered answers to him within my earshot.

“C, A, B” uttered one guy. They were not the only cheaters.

The teacher emerged down the aisle. He arrived at my guide’s desk.

“Prepared for this quiz? Because you definitely weren’t for the last ones. Not going to fail again are you?”

He chuckled knowingly, as if he knew what was going down.

This experience went against everything I learned about life. It actually contradicted the honor and values I acquired through years of playing football. Suddenly my academic life at  Montclair Kimberley Academy, where I never witnessed anything like this, looked more appealing. Lunch will be better, I thought.

At a table with a mixture of students, the football players — tall and muscular guys–stood out. They sat, turned, spoke, and even ate with chips on their shoulders. They were rude, treating others as outsiders at the table. I had watched these guys play with an expertise years beyond their actual ages. But this conduct showed me that maturity hadn’t extended to life’s playbook.

I walked away from the promise of brighter Friday night lights and discovered I was more than just a good football player. Remaining at MKA opened my possibilities to put more time into my other passions like playing the saxophone and to discover new interests like student government. All my dreams centered on the football field when standing on the sidelines with the players at the boys school. In that moment, I could not see myself in a campaign to become student body president. Yet three years later, I ran and won. Returning to MKA for high school created my path of versatility.

From that first “hike!” –I have transferred lessons from the sport to everyday life on and off the field.   

Brian F Bond, a graduate of Montclair Kimberley Academy, will be a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in the fall.

 

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