When it comes to the NFL, there’s a natural and healthy sense of competition and winning and losing, not just for teams but among fans.
In some regards this can apply to society at large as well, in how we all too often can engage in a “zero sum game” manner of living.
Like in checkers—one does not win without another person’s loss.
In a game of football, your winning is determined by gaining ground and forcing the defense (or opposing offense) to lose their own ground. But that’s just a game.
And some things, despite all we pour in from the time, efforts and quality of life as fans, are ultimately more important.
There’s the sense of community, camaraderie, and something that’s been a joy that I’ve personally been able to experience before with friends and other like-minded football freaks, as it were. Before, during and after can be an escape from reality, especially one that has been difficult for many during this pandemic of the past two years. And reality hit hard in a more personal way for me this past weekend.
Now a bit of a warning.
What follows might not be QUITE as Cardinals related but football is about the human in all of us and with a platform like we’ve been fortunate to have on this site from both site manager Seth and SBNation well....gosh darnit I’m going to use it.
Below are two brief stories about two strangers and a bit of the empathy that we could all use a bit more of as football fans.
In short, after leaving the Panthers vs. Cardinals game this past weekend, I found discovered something most unfortunate:
I lost my wallet at the stadium.
For anyone who’s had to undergo the sort of small level of suffering that can occur when something like this happens (the phone calls, cancellations, visits to gyms, etc) it can go from a minor inconvenience at best to one that REALLY ends up being problematic. When you live about 45+ minutes from Glendale, for example.
It was some helpful conversations with the security staff on the phone after cleaning and waiting to hear news (as well as tracking the location as best as I could) that led to three straight days of waiting.
You see, for someone like me that has hit rough times over the state of COVID to the point of being unemployed for what will be 13 out of the last 15 months (not for lack of trying or looking) it wasn’t long before I realized it was more than a wallet if it wasn’t recovered.
There was grocery money inside, cash even, nothing irreplaceable but nothing easily dispensed.
Something I figured that I would even give as a reward for its safe return. Alas, as a Tuesday came and went and there was no sign, I reached the closest point to giving up on it that one could make. It felt like just another blow amidst a flood of many more from an assailant year that seemingly had no end...you know, those little errors or mistakes that you feel cost you overall?
A final call in to the stadium security seemed to confirm it, and I prepared for my assuredly next and final step: to visit the last known location of a tracking device in the parking lot and find a probably crumpled and removed tracker that had been casually discarded amidst a slew of empty Coors Light cans and plastic wraps and grill grease spills.
It was perhaps about as close as one can be resigned to their fate, such as when watching a Panthers team with Cam Newton put up a final touchdown that all but sealed the deal.
And then...a call.
With a flicker of good news amidst a trying time...
My wallet had not been turned in to stadium security.
It hadn’t even been dropped off or mailed and a notice given.
It had been found.
There was a stranger who not only found the item and returned it, but did it by physically driving over what may have been half a city away to return it, cash in hand, to my door.
I tell you, it was a simple act of mercy and empathy that was a reminder of the little, good things, in life. And I never even got to see their face.
Whether it was a fan or security (heck, it might even have been a Panthers fan or one of the “others” that our competitive way of living is supposed to squabble and boo) they not only took the time and selfless effort but didn’t even stick around long enough to request a reward.
A total stranger.
Doing good for good’s sake. And the reason it mattered so much to me was...because of the second stranger to mention in this story.
The second stranger in the story is one who was not the faceless Good Samaritan but rather one who had a face but no name.
On the same day, at about the same time, I learned that the recently reported shooting in the Chandler area this weekend was actually someone I knew. A veteran, a lover of sports and someone who I had even played against previously in competition.
He was 37 years old, and was shot to death by someone that he had reportedly never seen or met in his life before. Previous overseas experience in war, surviving explosions and trauma and returning as a disabled veteran serving this country on the front lines and in a single instant, all that
A total stranger.
The sadness and even recognition of losing a life of someone who you had just seen some 24 hours ago alive, healthy and loving the air of competition struck me as a loss. Heck, it could have been me, as I was maybe 10 minutes previous at the same intersection.
There’s a lot of pain & sadness to be found amidst the joy...I think of just some of the main NFL storylines, from the small pieces like Aaron Rodgers, or Antonio Brown controversies and things that are awful such as Henry Ruggs, Gruden or Damon Arnette.
The stigma of mental health in this country is something that has been slowly but surely started to been opened up in the NFL world at large by some of the bigger stars in the game:
The last time Atlanta played in Dallas, Hayden Hurst and Dak Prescott came together to break the stigma against mental health— Law Nation Sports (@LawsNation) November 13, 2021
"Hurst was sure of only one thing. 'For some reason ... God was giving me a second chance.'"— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) December 4, 2020
Hayden Hurst is breaking the stigma on mental health. This is his story.
Seeing a player retire potentially for a time in Calvin Ridley.
And this week, even Titans receiver A.J. Brown commented in on it:
A.J. Brown opened up about his message that he posted on social media about depression and how he contemplated suicide last year. #Titans pic.twitter.com/h3JXiPRSE5— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) November 18, 2021
The past week, seeing these areas being brought new life by the players in the NFL has been an encouragement, and a simple reminder of the empathy we all have as humans. And I’m struck again by the comparison of the two differences in the span of a week following a loss to the Panthers.
Two strangers. One who responded and acted with kindness, and another who did not.
I’m sorry if it seems as though I’ve waxed poetic or been on a soapbox for far too long for a Friday morning but in an NFL season that seems to mirror the reflection of life, there’s often times we need to slow down.
To not overreact to a Panthers game, knowing that it’s just a game (and knowing that one game doesn’t determine a season much less one life).
In the span of the National Football League, I can’t tell you if the Cardinals are going to win on Sunday, but rather than questioning if it matters, perhaps there’s a bit we can do as far as spending just a bit less time infighting over a stranger just because they are wearing Panthers colors, and a bit more time doing some good.
I have no idea what to do to thank my stranger this week...and wouldn’t know where to start.
It feels like just a small bit but this article in a way is my tribute: both to the game and my experience as a THANK YOU for a bit of empathy and encouragement.
It means more than you know.
And as we head into yet another weekend of NFL football, I hope I can be a bit of that helpful stranger to someone else the next time I’m in a stadium, or cheering live or on social for the things amidst it all, for the little things like a sport with 100 yards and a pigskin or having a bit more mercy toward the real person wearing that uniform before hitting “post”.
It feels like the least I can do. So thanks again, stranger.
I hope I can pay it forward a bit, even if this is all it feels I can do.
The GoFundMe for Chris Pelkey has been met but donations here can be made as well as donations to the Wounded Warrior Project in his name or your own for veterans and other survivors of trauma.