The Last Shall Be First.

A funny thing happened a few weeks ago. An athlete from the University of South Carolina was selected as the first pick in the NFL draft. This, in itself, is not ironic. Jadeveon Clowney was expected to go at #1 to the Texans, due to his great athletic ability at defensive end. To fully understand the irony of this pick, you must look back to the draft a year ago.

In the NFL draft, the last pick is titled Mr. Irrelevant. He is treated to a wonderful week filled with things like a media tour and a parade in his honor. What is unspoken yet understood, is that this will likely be the best week he has in his NFL career. Last year, Mr. Irrelevant was a tight end named Justice Cunningham. He was selected  with the 254th pick of the 2013 draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He would not stay there for long, as he ended up with the St. Louis Rams, last December. But, he is lucky. Most last picks’ careers are over before the season starts. They end up being cut from the team during training camp. Justice was different. He did the unexpected. He survived training camp. He survived being cut. He continues to persevere. Maybe it’s something he learned at his alma mater…the University of South Carolina.

That’s right. The school selected last in the 2013 NFL Draft became the first pick for 2014.

Life teaches many lessons about the last picked. They are teased, looked down upon and dismissed.  I remember being picked last during many PE classes in grade school. My skinny frame and the neighborhood I came from made me easy to overlook; and sometimes, an easy target. But I persevered. What makes the last different is perseverance. It is the drive to work hard and become better. We are more than meets the eye. And when you don’t watch us, we shock the world.

Check out this year’s Mr. Irrelevant in the video below.

 

 

 

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Who do you need to release?

As I and other Carolina Panther fans continue to mourn the loss of Steve Smith, we grimace at the amount of speculation surrounding his release. Similarly, Philadelphia Eagle fans are not happy with the release of their star wide receiver, DeSean Jackson. Over the last couple of weeks, rumors have circulated about the receiver’s ego after after going on a planned vacation, as well as alleged ties with a gang. Some believe that these allegations are what led to his release.

Growing up, my Grandmother often warned my brother and I, “association brings on assimilation.” That phrase is engrained in my memory. I could hear her voice saying it when I walked the halls of high school for the first time. The saying echoed in my ear during lunch periods and at basketball games. It repeated during college between classes and at parties. (I guess I thought about my Grandmother a lot, huh: ) That association phrase guided my friendships and relationships throughout my life. I carefully select the people I surround myself with, because I recognize the profound effect they could have on everything from my opinions to my reputation. This is not to say that I do not have questionable people in my life. Living where I grew up, that came with the territory. However, realistically there will be questions about any human being, because we are all…human.

Though the fairness of assumptions because of association is debatable, it is an unfortunate aspect of our every day lives. There are questionable characters in every school, every business and every family. DeSean Jackson admits to having friends from his past that are or were in gangs. He credits some of them for where he is today due to the lessons he learned. Is he paying a price for it? Should he be paying for it? If that is the case, then we all have a price to pay. I have let go of many in my life because they were not worth it. But I can honestly and proudly say that there are some that I hold dear, because they are worth every penny.

 

Read this article, that I agree with, about DeSean Jackson’s release.

Free Agency- Part II

So, the breakup finally happened. And I am utterly devastated. I knew it was coming, but I was still holding on to a little bit of hope. I hoped that after 13 years, there would be something that could be salvaged. I hoped that dedication to hard work and success would weigh more than the dollar, or at least just as much. I hoped that loyalty would be worth something. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Steve Smith was officially released from the Carolina Panthers today. For two days, the organization strung the fans along, leaving them with a little glimmer of hope that the situation would be worked out. Finally, they released him. Reports have stated how classless this whole situation has been handled. However, Steve Smith has stood with class as his personality and locker room reputation has been called into question. At the end of the day, he was a great leader. It is those leadership qualities and his ability on the field that will land him a new relationship with another team.

Steve Smith on leaving the Free Agency and leaving the city of Charlotte...

Ok, I think I’m  good. As a Carolina Panthers fan, I just needed to vent a little.

 

 


Free Agency- Part I

I have counseled many girlfriends through breakups. I think the ones that puzzle me the most are those that come by surprise. They are the ladies who discovered through the grapevine that their relationship could possibly be or definitely was over. They experienced a range of emotions but their main question was, “Why didn’t he come to me first?”

On March 11, free agency will officially begin in the NFL. Since the beginning of the year, teams and players have been evaluating skill, past performance and the market for positions. This is a known and accepted aspect of the business. However, there is still a level of expectation that a player will be provided the courtesy of knowing personally from their organization that they are considering moving on. Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers, is respected in the locker room and revered in the city of Charlotte.  Unfortunately, like many of us in relationships, Steve Smith heard it through the grapevine that his team of 13 years was considering letting him go. Only, his grapevine was the national media. His initial response was exactly like ours. He just wanted the courtesy and respect of being told personally.

A couple of weeks have passed since this story broke. Steve Smith did an interview that impressed me on a deep level. He took the high road and focused on what is most important in his life. Sometimes our girlfriends tend to act like Josina Anderson, the interviewer in the below clip. They don’t want to hear about the positive way you are trying to handle a break up. They just want the dirt. My hope is that we are able to respond in the same manner as Steve Smith. In spite of the mess caused by all the dirt, we courageously begin the clean up process to reveal the real beauty of our lives.

Steve Smith’s Future in Carolina

 

The Job Fair

A very special job fair was held this past weekend, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Though the corporate sponsor was looking to fill over 200 positions with 32 companies; this was not an open job fair. It was very exclusive. The candidates attending had been watched for years prior to this event. Only the prospects at the highest skill level were invited.  For four days, each candidate was put through a series of tests and interviews. They each had an opportunity to display their talent and prove their ability to handle the position. Each candidate had to prove they were the best man for the job.

This job fair was the NFL Combine. Each year, hundreds of hopefuls descend upon Lucas Oil Stadium with hopes of achieving their dream of becoming a professional athlete. For those who are not invited, they attend open job fairs held across the country called “Pro Days.” These job fairs are different from others only in its physical assessments of ability through field drills and weight lifts. (Find out more about what happens at the combine here!) Besides the skill tests, each candidate goes through interviews in the same manner a typical job hunter would. They sit down in a room with an employer or company representative. Questions are posed about various situations that may arise on the job, how they have handled their position in the past and their personal life. The prospect should answer each question with confidence under pressure. Many feel the weight of family obligations and uncertain futures. This is for their dream, their livelihood.

How many interviews have you gone on or suffered through? How many times have you been asked probing questions about past positions or your character? Do you feel the weight of each answer and how greatly it could change your life? How do you handle it? Being unemployed is a difficult and trying time in someone’s life. As a sole provider, the stress can be unbearable. But we bear it. We go to each interview, not knowing what the outcome will be. We go to each interview hoping this will be the one. For some at the NFL Combine, they know they will be chosen. Others do not…but they go anyway, in hope. And as long as there is hope, even just a little, it’s enough to keep going.

Don’t be fooled by the, “What if I never…” question. The truth is, if you keep going, you will never have to know the answer.

My Teammate, My Friend

Do you have 52+ friends that you can truly trust with the biggest secret of your life? Do you have at least one? Do you have a friend that will be by your side in your most uncomfortable setting? Will that friend save you when you’re sinking?

Football teams share a special bond. They may be friends, but above all they are teammates. We may talk about what we would do for our friends. Teammates practice this everyday. Almost like soldiers, they cover each other, they protect each other. They put their bodies on the line for one another. They do this  because they have a genuine respect for the others talent and a common desire to win. Teammates understand a fundamental principle of life. No one accomplishes anything alone.

This week, NFL prospect- Michael Sam, shared with the world a personal truth he had already shared with his teammates, a year ago. For a year, at least 53 men kept a secret from the press, that sent shock waves across the sports world. A few weeks ago, we watched as Marshawn Lynch painfully struggled through a press conference until his teammate, Michael Robinson, interjected. (If you missed it, click the youtube link below.) Lynch was visibly shaking until Robinson playfully took over and fielded questions for him. These teammates silently and publicly displayed the characteristics of true friendship. They protected each other without seeking anything for themselves.

I hope that as Valentine’s Day approaches, we celebrate all those we love, including our true friends, our teammates.

A City United

In February 2003, I lived in Charlotte, NC after migrating from South Carolina to attend college.  I remember the excitement that filled the air and the streets on the first Sunday evening of the month. Our Carolina Panthers had made it to the Super Bowl! For the last two weeks prior, dinner  table discussions and water cooler conversations were centered around what we would do if we won it all. That Sunday, my best friend and I had the radio on, as we traveled to a Super Bowl party. We did not want to miss a moment. Yes, the air was crisp and different. An entire city was united in hope behind a team… that ultimately fell in defeat to a horrific, out of bounds punt. (Excuse me, as I wipe a tear.) What I remember most about that night was the ride home. The air,  now, suffocated you in disappointment. The streets were filled with bumper to bumper traffic and a deafening silence as fans went home to prepare for just another typical Monday.

Denver, Co knows that deafening silence all too well. They had been suffocated in disappointment after four Super Bowls between 1978 and 1990. Though their wins in 1998 and 1999 softened the blow, this past Sunday still hurts like crazy. Seattle had experienced the same type air, but this week will be different. On Sunday, their Seahawks brought home the Super Bowl trophy for the first time ever. All the things we talked about in 2003 if the Panthers won, well, Seattle will actually get to live it out. Schools will close. Businesses will shut down. There will be parties and parades for a week. Yes, this week, two cities will be united; one in victory and one in defeat. No matter where you are in each city, the air will be filled with something undeniable. Football fans will suffocate by it. And if you’re not a football fan, you may not be able to put your finger on it…but you’ll feel it.