SWINDLE COLUMN: Character and football

Published 10:30 am Saturday, September 10, 2022

October 26th, 1973 – Tanner Memorial Hospital – Dr. Joe Parrish enters the delivery room around 10:00 am. My mother is about to give birth to her first born child. As I open my eyes for the first time in my life, Dr. Parrish, a devout Tennessee fan, just smiles. He places an orange University of Tennessee hat on my infant head and presents me to my father.

My father, who played football for the University of Georgia, cracks a smile and gently removes the orange hat from my head. They both laugh as I am put into the arms of my mother.

Football dominates the culture in the South. I was a Dawg fan from birth. As a young child, I do not remember wearing anything except black and red. Late 1970’s – Carrollton, GA – Some folks consider me to be a stubborn, disobedient child who cannot sit still nor follow directions of adults. (I still plead not guilty to these allegations.)

Nevertheless, when I was allegedly not behaving in a proper manner, I was sent outside with my Georgia uniform to play football with my friends. Somehow, being outside competing with my buddies would bring forth focus and perhaps better behavior. When dusk settled over the horizon, I was so tired that I would sometimes come back inside and fall asleep before dinner.

Early 1990’s – Riverside Military Academy – For some reason, my parents think that I need a bit more discipline and send me to military school. Interestingly, it is not the strict military environment that affects this alleged lack of discipline. It is football.

At the time, I just wanted to be like my father; a football hero. I soon discovered that it would be impossible on the gridiron. While I was a decent wide receiver with good hands, I did not inherit the athletic skills that God gave to my father. However, playing football would provide me with more life skills than any another activity I can think of. Football, and other sports, helps young people develop a work ethic, participate as a team member, and overcome adversity.

In football, you play one game a week, but you practice just about every day. During practice, you learn how to improve your skills. Football practice is not like piano practice. You must do it in varying, sometimes brutal, weather conditions like extreme heat, driving rain, and strong winds.

Additionally, your physical and mental toughness is tested on a daily basis. It is not uncommon to finish practice with bruises on your body and blood on your jersey.

Sometimes, you may feel that practices are unfair, not being thrown the ball enough is unjust, and/or the challenge is just too insurmountable.

However, life can be unfair, unjust, and challenging. Football builds the character that is required to be strong and face adversity with confidence and bravery.

Any player knows that it is not how you start, but how you finish. Falling behind by two touchdowns is one thing. More important is finding a way to come back.

That is important in life, too. Circumstances change, even if you have a good game plan. You have to adjust. You learn how to overcome challenges, disappointments and the piercing pain of defeat. Quitting is never an option. Football also teaches players to summon the ability to have confidence and trust in others who are worthy. This is teamwork.

For example, no matter how good a quarterback may be, he will never throw for 300 yards, let alone complete one pass, without protection from the offensive line.

The best defensive back cannot intercept a pass without relying on the linebackers and defensive line to pressure the quarterback.

I learned all of these life skills on the football field.