A Fan’s Apology to Andre

I was first introduced to football when I was in high school, creating one of my most cherished connections with my grandfather. Even though it was a time of bonding with my grandfather I was still a teen after all and could not possibly root for his Washington Redskins.

Alas I needed a younger and hungrier franchise to get behind. So finding a dynamic, super-human elastic signal caller in Randall Cunningham with the Philadelphia Eagles spoke to me. I was amazed not only on how exciting the game of football could be, but the truth in the cliche ‘Any Given Sunday’.

During the 90’s the Eagles were not a successful football team. With a defensive coordinator playing at head coach we never had much talent around Randall, but we were always scrappy. Meanwhile that defense was in a class by itself, and there is no telling how good they could have been if not for the tragic death of Jerome Brown in 1992.

One stalwart on that defense was the mack truck of a safety Andre Waters. Some referred to him as Andre ‘Dirty’ Waters around the media and league due to his punishing style of play. I always took that as a sign that he was doing it right, and playing to the limits of the rules for his team. He was a crushing hitter who informed my view on the position of safety in the NFL.

Later the mantle would be taken up by a similarly great player in Brian Dawkins. I would always hold Dawk’s performance and compare it with those ‘glory’ days in the 90’s ofAndre. I can remember vividly him laying out receivers on opposing teams and running over running backs who were unlucky enough to see him at the second level.

I never played football, because I gained interest in it at such a late age, though I did play ice hockey for many years. Even not having played I always cherished both sports as family bonding. I have children now, and my oldest son is Autistic, so sports do not interest him. Luckily? Over the years since having him, I have had to come to terms with not being able to play catch with my son, or watch him compete in sports that I loved as a kid. Not to worry though he and I have found so many other activities to enjoy together and he may still enjoy watching sports, just not necessarily competing himself.

All of this back story brings me to today. Today is the day after my wife and I sat down to watch ‘Concussion’ the movie starring Will Smith that attempts to tackle the issue of concussions and a horrifying condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy CTE in the NFL. It certainly was sad to watch depictions of how some classic Pittsburg Steeler players were affected in tragic ways, due to their time playing football.

Those stories by themselves were the focus of the story and very difficult to watch, as well as reconcile with my love of football, but then it came home. An actor Richard T. Jones portrayed a frantic desperate former player, and I knew where this was going to end, which it did in the players suicide at the age of 44.

The actor was playing Andre Waters, and while the scene seems to have been dramatized or a complete fabrication, the fact that I had never known what had happened to Andre was devastating. I received so much enjoyment watching Andre demolish receivers and running backs for years reviling in his ferocity. Now I am confronted with such a massive human cost, how can I ever watch another NFL game.

The NFL draft is this week I am aware of this because I am already preparing for this season of Fantasy Football, yet another activity I cannot see a path to continuing. Admittedly this is all a gut reaction. As part of my due diligence I found an online article in the Palm Beach Post* where Andre’s family and friends described him not as being destitute and begging for help, but rather a proud man who was coaching youth football.

This is a wonderful and inspiring way to remember Andre, though the result was still his grossly unacceptable death due to his time playing in the NFL. All of this brings me to the realization I must wrestle with my love of violent sports like football and hockey versus the real human cost of that celebrated violence.

In the meantime I want to say how terribly sorry I am to Andre, his family, every NFL player and their families for facilitating the NFL’s incentive for covering up this massive damage being done to their players. To the National Football League make these men’s lives a priority! This is your responsibility!

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