Have you ever thought about what goes through a players’ mind during a big game? Who and what are they playing for? Is it for money, their country or for themselves? I never really gave this enough thought until the past couple of days. One can only imagine the different thoughts racing through an athletes’ head during a big moment. About two weeks ago, me being an avid Cowboys fan, expressed my frustrations for their disappointing season, then a co-worker uttered “It’s just a game.” At that time I agreed with her, but if she were to say that to me again, I would have to disagree. Sports can be more complicated than just a game. It is in fact much bigger than that.
Last week, I made a trip to my alma mater in Lubbock, Texas, to attend the Texas Tech v. Missouri football game in which the Red Raiders sported their “Wounded Warrior” jerseys. For all those that aren’t aware of what the Wounded Warrior Project is, it is a non-profit organization that provides programs and services for injured service members and their families. Texas Tech and Under Armour partnered with the Wound Warrior Project to support our country’s military and public safety heroes. It allowed the Texas Tech football players time to spend with injured soldiers prior to the game. This experience changed the perspective of football to the players. You may have not seen it from the stands, but it was there emotionally.
Texas Tech running back, Baron Batch, described this as a moment he will never forget. Like most of the season, the Red Raiders found themselves in another 14-point deficit early in the first quarter. With the crowd silenced and dejection written all over the players’ faces, the Red Raiders desperately needed a spark.
“I remember walking back to the offensive bench after going three and out, and looking up to see the soldiers that were honorary captains standing behind the bench cheering on the defense and encouraging the other offensive players. I sat down and took a sip of water before turning back to look at the soldiers. I remember seeing that they were missing arms and legs; that they were scarred and burned, and I saw their sacrifice. I’m not an emotional person but this is an image that I will never forget. I made eye contact with one of the soldiers, and all he said to me was “don’t quit, keep fighting”. I became teary eyed immediately. At that exact moment I not only realized the magnitude of what the game meant, but I realized exactly what it means to say “ We wont quit” because that was my response,” said Batch.
Texas Tech was then able to rally and upset Missouri 24-17 that night and those inspiring words from the soldiers were the main reasons why. The players recalled that the words “Don’t quit, keep fighting” raced through their heads throughout the entire game. After seeing the wounded soldiers cheer on the Red Raiders, the team realized that quitting was no longer something that the team could do.
“The military give so much for us every single day, and I don’t think we appreciate it enough, what they put on the line every single day. So, it is a real honor to have an army and to have people volunteer like that and go and serve to keep us free, and keep us able to play ball games,” Taylor Potts, Texas Tech quarterback said. “They keep people in the stands and keep the game going. So, we are really lucky to have them. To all our military, thank you very much for everything you do. We all appreciate it and the Red Raiders love you very much, so thank you.”
The Texas Tech v. Missouri football game on Nov. 6, 2010 was more than just a game for the Red Raiders.
After the game and a long night of celebrating, I came home and watched an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called “The Two Escobars” and this got me thinking. It made me realize that there are much more underlying, complex meanings when it comes to sports.
The Two Escobars is a documentary film which depicts the rise and fall of Colombian soccer and the fear of losing something worth more than a game. The movie revolves around Andres Escobar, a star defender for the Colombian National soccer team, and Pablo Escobar, the kingpin of the Medellin Cartel. The two have no relation by surname, but do share a connection with each other. Andres was the star of a club soccer team, Atletico Nacional, owned by Pablo, and Pablo used that soccer team to launder in millions of drug dollars. It then sparked other drug dealers to own club soccer teams so they could launder money as well. This revolutionized Colombian soccer and began being called “Narco-soccer.” With Colombian soccer being funded by dirty money, they were able to field one of the best soccer squads in the world at the time.
Pablo was known as a savior to the lower-class Colombian citizens. He did things the Colombian government couldn’t. He built homes for Colombian citizens that were living in dumps and also built soccer fields in poor areas. Pablo created Colombia’s worldwide reputation for drugs, murder and corruption; yet he was also known as a real-life “Robin Hood.” Once the Colombian government realized how dangerous and corrupt their country had become due to Pablo’s drug trafficking, they placed their undivided attention on stopping the cartel. Pablo was finally shot and killed in 1993. With Colombia’s reputation already shattered, Andres and his Colombian teammates looked to use the 1994 World Cup to rewrite its reputation with an outstanding performance.
The Colombians came into the 94′ World Cup as one of the favorites, but were up-ended by Romania in their first match. This upset many Colombians, especially the drug cartel because tons of money was being gambled on the Colombian soccer team. Prior to their crucial match against the United States, the Colombian players were receiving many death threats towards them and their families. The cartel did not want to lose their money. As the players walked tensely onto the pitch, you could see the fear in their eyes. They feared that this had become way more than just a game; they were potentially playing for their lives and their families.
Then the unthinkable happened. Star defender, Andres Escobar, scored a tragic own goal off a deflection giving the United States a 2-1 victory. This shocked the entire Colombian nation as Colombia was eliminated in the group stages. A few days after returning to Colombia, Andres was shot and killed by drug-related members. Many believe his own goal was the reason for his death, as many drug dealers had lost money due to the defeat. Others say Pablo is to blame, as he is the reason Colombia had become such a violent country. Some even say Andres would still be alive today if Pablo was alive, but we will never know.
No matter how much media and television coverage, we are unable to get a true understanding of what goes through a players mind and what they are playing for.
In some circumstances, it is better when sports are referred to as “just a game.”