Sport is merely the expression of life through competitive encounter
Marv Levy was known for his many quotes before games, during games and after games. One of Marv Levy’s quotes which I have always cherished is, “Where would you rather be than right here, right now.” That could be the best quote to describe the kind of week that just took place at 1 Bills Drive.
The cause and effect, The punch, broken jaw, the release, the signing
It is hard to believe it was only a week ago. If you are a sports fan, the headline of the day a week ago was the punch to the face of Geno Smith, by his then team mate IK Enemkpali, that broke his jaw and sidelined Gino Smith from six to ten weeks, and ended up getting Enemkpali released from the Jets and a day later, irony of ironies, former Jets coach and current Bills coach, Rex Ryan, signs the maligned linebacker. A couple of days later, one of the Bills defensive tackles, Jarius Wynn, suffers a season ending ACL injury, leaving more playing time in the first exhibition game for IK Enemkpali, and a possible place on the opening day roster. Talk about a dramatic week.
It seems rather juvenile to have grown men act out like misbehaving children and injure each other, but it has happened and will continue to happen. It is not only part of competitive sports but also a part of life. There are times when people reach that point of no return, lose self-control and physically take it out on another person. When this happens in the highly violent and physical game of NFL football, it is not surprising that fists can go flying and bones can become broken. It turns out Enemkpali had a football camp he runs in his home town for kids, and Gino Smith was going to go to it and be there for the kids. Enemkpali arranged for the plane fare and ticket and at the last moment Gino Smith cancelled out due to the death of his brother’s best friend. Smith promises to repay the cost of the ticket. This was in June. He never paid. Last week Smith was mouthing off, according to reports, in the locker room about the ticket and Enemkpali, and Enemkpali told him to come and tell him to his face. When Smith came up to him, words flared up, and Enemkpali let one punch fly and broke Smith’s glass jaw. It is mind boggling that this took place in the locker room, but it has happened before.
It has happened between players and coaches, the most famous being between Bill Parcels and his best linebacker, Lawrence Taylor (LT). There were player fights from the unlikeliest of players, like Roger Staubach and Clint Longley, which ended in Clint Longley being trade away. So fights happen when things are allowed to simmer and reach that boiling point where it just explodes. Enemkpali was put on waivers and Gino Smith had surgery on his jaw. All this with the season about to start in a month’s time.
The effect was immediate. The Jets had to put a stop to this incident and got rid of the player who was deemed responsible and expendable, and that Enemkpali. Smith was the first string QB and was seen as the leader of the offense. He was looked upon to really come on and lead this Jets team. With one blow to the jaw, and possible ten weeks on the sideline, any hope the Jets have is shrinking fast.
While Smith was undergoing surgery, Enemkpali was claimed from waivers, and his former coach, the one who drafted him a year ago, Rex Ryan, signed him and brought him to Buffalo for the Bills organization. Within the next day, Thursday last, Enemkpali was practicing with the Bills. He played on Friday night in Buffalo against the Carolina Panthers, and he got extended playing time when one of the Bills defensive tackles got hurt, and that injury looks to have opened up a possible roster slot for Enemkpali. It seems to have been very fortuitous for both Enemkpali and the Bills that he was signed by Ryan after all.
The redemptive role of “second chances”
All the talk during the Bills off season and this pre-season has centered around an oft quoted phrase, “second chances”. From the Bills coach, Rex Ryan, when he was signed by Bills ownership, who used the term at his news conference, that his coming to Buffalo was his “second chance” at head coaching in the NFL, to the controversial “bully” signing of Richie Incognito in February, to the signing of maligned wide receiver Percy Harvin, the Bills have become the poster child of the unwanted NFL players club. The only player missing is Ray Rice who has been out of football since his domestic abuse situation. A lot of NFL clubs are mocking the Bills for doing what they have done this off season. The recent signing of Enemkpali has just made it more heinous to many NFL observers. But I would say otherwise. I would say, that based on the personality of the coach, Rex Ryan, and the ownership of the Pegulas, all the way through the organization, there is a “culture of redemption”.
Creating and sustaining a culture of redemption
There is a lot of talk within society about people paying for their crimes or mistakes and with giving second chances to those who have redeemed themselves. But often that is all it really is. Empty talk. From the penal system where prisoners pay for the crimes but never are really pardoned upon completion and rarely have true second chances in life, to those like the athletes on the Buffalo Bills, who have been given a second chance at having a football career, and to others in the market place that washed up, and have had to try to claw back to get another shot at doing the right thing, it is very difficult to find a “redemptive culture” that will embrace the risk and also make it safe for someone to attempt to get their life together and become a productive and responsible citizen.
Rex Ryan models what he is – a redemptive man
Ryan is known as a “player’s coach”. He is more than a motivator. He is more than that. He believes in people and sees the good in people, and calls out the man in athletes that have always been treated as “boys”. He calls men to maturity and responsibility, and wants to form character in them that makes them competitive for the right reasons. He wants them to be successful as men as well as athletes and gives the men respect and helps them become successful. He is redemptive in his core DNA and values as a person and a coach. He sees people for who they can become and mines that in them and affirms them and teaches them to be responsible and grow as men. This is what I appreciate about the man. Incognito, Harvin, Enemkpali, and even the coaches have all had their “second chances”, and a man of his word, Ryan has even kept on coaches from the former coaching staff and added them to this current staff. He has modelled a redemptive culture all the way around.
It is more than about “second chances”. At the heart of Ryan and the Bills culture is an attitude that people need to get the opportunity to become better and become not only the best athlete possible, but the best man of character possible. The NFL is marred by scandal after scandal, some of which I have blogged about here on my blog.
Wherever you find people you are going to encounter those who have behavior and conduct issues
I believe that while we are made in the image of God, we are marred by sin in the world and that influences who we are as people and how we engage with other people. How we are raised in our families of origin will often determine how we become and behave as adults. There are those who break the mold when given the right mentoring and modelling, and this seems to be case here in Buffalo with Ryan and the Bills.
I have no doubt there will be those who will be hard on Ryan and the Bills for the players they have offered contracts to and given “second chances” to. I have no doubt there will be those that will fail again. But Ryan, the coaching staff, and the ownership all want to see people succeed and will assist them to be successful not just on the football field but also as men. This is the kind of team I can believe in and put my trust in.
The athletes around Ryan love him because he has their back. He affirms them and builds them up and encourages them to be the best that they can be. He is fatherly in that sense. He wants his “kids”, these athletes to be successful. He will do whatever it takes to protect them and help them. I find inspiration and comfort in this kind of character and modelling. I am reminded of the words of Scripture:
1 JOHN 4: 19 [The Message]
19 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
While the apostle John is speaking of Jesus Christ in this passage, it becomes the testimony of all of us. We love because we were loved first. God loved us first through Jesus Christ, and we love Him back, and in loving Him back, we act and treat others as He would treat them, with love and respect and a common humanity and compassion.
Common respect and compassion leads to becoming a better person
Coach Ryan acts redemptively. It is part of his DNA. I am thankful that I can look up to this team, and see from the top down, a culture that is a culture built on a foundation of redemption. It seeks to give other the opportunity to be all they can be, and to grow and develop in character and in their humanity. I like where this team is headed when it has a coach that embodies this kind of vision and value system.
Peace. NFL season is just around the corner. I can feel it in my bones!