September 5, 2013

Offensive line.

When I was a young man, back when I had a little more energy and a lot more girth, I played football. When I played football, I played on the offensive line.

I wasn’t the best at it, but I loved it. I wore my offensive line” badge with honor.

Part of the reason I played on the offensive line was because I was a fat guy with good balance, great hands, and an excellent understanding of the game; it made sense to put me in a position where my weight and knowledge of strategy could be used more than my limited athleticism. That wasn’t the only reason: a large part of why I loved playing the guard position was because I never really wanted to be the star, to have the ball, or to be responsible for anything but the protection of the people around me.

As an offensive lineman, you’re taught: never complain about injury, sacrifice everything for the rest of the team, and always remember that it’s never, ever about you.

I didn’t need to be taught those lessons — they came naturally, and perhaps were what made me a better lineman than most people of my short stature.

Those lessons still inform the way I live my life now: my aches (physical and emotional) are something I deal with on my own, and are often ignored — even today, it’s always about the people around me and how I can support and protect them.

This isn’t, obviously, the healthiest approach to life—I’m learning, and trying to remember that I can only be useful to others if I am healthy and happy myself—but it’s the way I grew up, it’s the way I am. It is a reflection of the ethos of the lineman that I was taught, decades ago.

Spencer Hall recently wrote a piece about offensive linemen and coaches and said that they were in the business of protection; it is a perfect summary of the role of the lineman on the field, and their coaches on the sideline.

Kurt Vonnegut said that his chief objection to life in general was that it was too easy, when alive, to make horrible mistakes.” This is what offensive line coaches live with: the notion that for every five simple circles drawn on a board, there are a nearly infinite number of possible threats looming out in the theoretical white space. Offensive plays give skill players arrows. Those arrows point down the field toward an endzone, a stopping point, a celebration. Those five simple circles stay on the board in the same place, and are on duty forever.

They are rough men in the business of protection.

A few years ago, after taking a few personality tests—including the Myers-Briggs which classified me as a caregiver’—my test administrator asked me just how I had become someone who cared more for the wellbeing of others (often) to the point of personal detriment. I did not know how to answer her question.

I should have told her that, at my core, I was an offensive lineman: for us linemen and our coaches, it has never been, or never will be, about us.

Even now, after my brief football days, I am, and always will be, in the business of protection.