I, admittedly, am none of those people.
In fact, after interviewing Byrd and recounting his message, I’ve come to believe that everything happens for a reason, and that it was no coincidence that the senior Navy slotback shared his story with me when he did. Claiming he has recently been called by God to help other people find their way in life, Byrd wasn’t just rehashing the company line of a Tim Tebow or other Christian athlete: he was speaking a very real and relevant truth that has affected me more than any single interview I’ve ever conducted in my journalistic career.
Probably not something you were expecting to read when you logged onto a Navy football website today, were you?
I won’t hide it. I was at first hesitant about writing this column. Let’s be real here: there has been a lot of controversy when it comes to the opinions expressed around the Navy football community as of late, and very little of that controversy has come from the usual preseason topics. Actual football news has been few and far between, and besides, what good is an objective journalist who can’t even keep his opinions to himself, especially when it comes to such a taboo subject as spirituality in the public sphere?
But in an offseason filled with headlines that never miss the chance to pile onto the police blotter wagon, Byrd’s strong-willed faith in Providence should represent a much-needed change of pace. Say what you want about keeping up with appearances or the need to divorce sports with greater and more weighty issues of life and news, but the fact remains that we’re all long past that point. If the recent dismissals of Navy slotback Marcus Curry and receiver Mario Washington didn’t reinforce that principle with you, than frankly I don’t know what will.
Byrd’s example is more than just a ‘feel good’ news item in a summer fraught with bad publicity for Navy and NCAA athletes, however. For me, hearing Byrd talk at length about his mother’s drug use, his father’s death, and his subsequent lapse into apathy for school and football struck a much more personal chord. No, I can’t say that I’ve ever had to experience the death of a parent or drug abuse in my family, but I do know a thing or two about getting down on myself, and I’ve experienced my fair share of helpless moments and bouts with depression during my 21 years of existence.
Byrd’s story came to me during a difficult time in my life. No, that’s not exactly right. Truth be told, the story comes to me at a difficult time in my life. I don’t know if any of my readers have conceptions of me outside of the objective, faceless words inscribed in my football stories for GoMids.com, or even if the name “Adam Nettina” carries any connotation at all. Heck, I’m not even sure if I’ve become anything more than the anonymous “jerk reporter” that I used to lambaste when opening up the Baltimore Sun as a kid.
Perhaps that has been the problem, at least for me anyway. You see, for the past year and a half or so, the name, the face, my very person – it has been divorced from the persona I’ve been showing the world. Overwhelmed by a need to distinguish myself as a writer and to stay on top of the latest breaking story or advance my way through the sports journalism ranks, I’ve become a machine. Constantly worry and obsessing about getting ahead in my professional life, I’ve missed out on my college experience, and abandoned most of the people who have shown me so much love and compassion. Unable to overcome my own worldly ambitions and need for perfection, there have been times when I’ve slipped into depression, and wondered aloud why it is that I got into writing about sports in the first place.
It hasn’t always been like this. There was a time when anxiety over my job performance or being ‘productive’ in every aspect of my life didn’t matter so much. There was a time when I didn’t obsess over trivial things or proving people wrong or getting my material out, and a time when enjoying the company of friends and family meant more to me than worrying about securing my future in a down economy or creating the perfect professional persona to show the world.
Treading on such a path – a path fraught with the need for absolute control, obsessive tendencies, and nonstop, personal anxiety – wasn’t meant for humanity, much less youth. While I know this truth, it has been tough for me to put it into action, and the struggle to make the positive changes in my life has been a series of “one step forward and two steps back” actions. But by talking about his own struggle, and by talking about his own need to reveal some of his crosses and failings to the world, Byrd reminded me that the first step to positive change is to open up about our experience. When we do so, we often find that our lonely isolation and internal problems aren’t as unique to ourselves as we previously thought, and that with the loss of pretension our suffering can yield to the empathy of a shared human condition.
“It’s good to have brothers with you that are along for the ride with you and are going through the same things that you’re going through,” Byrd said when describing his conversations with teammates in wake of opening up about his own struggles.
“They are going through the same things,” he added. “They are not preaching to you from the pulpit or from somewhere where they don’t know your experience: they know exactly what you’re going through. It’s good to see that and to have that.”
Navy players talk a lot about ‘brotherhood’, so much so that it gets to a point where even the most gung-ho of Navy fans probably roll their eyes at the use of the term. I know I sure have in the past. Yet this “Bortherhood” which Navy players describe themselves being a part of has real meaning, and from Andre’s heartfelt words it didn’t take me long to realize that the concept extends far beyond what goes on in the field or even in the classroom.
The ‘Brotherhood’ is an amazing concept, no doubt, but why should it be limited to a select group of our nation’s finest? To tell you the truth, as I’ve covered Navy players over the past few years and gotten to hear their stories, I’ve always been somewhat jealous that their examples couldn’t be applied to other areas of society. First, as a college student in a university that I never felt comfortable at; and later, as a young adult trying to balance school and work while living 2000 miles away from the only home I’ve ever known, I’ve longed for the kind of brotherhood Navy’s players share. Byrd’s words reminded me that that kind of brotherhood is available to all of us, whether it be through a team, a family, and yes, a faith in God.
Above all, Byrd’s message of Christian hope has helped ease my mind when it comes to the anxiety that has a plagued me in recent years.
“It doesn’t matter how many plays or snaps I play: It doesn’t matter,” Byrd said. “It’s how I’m going to show that Christ is the Lord of my life. How am I going to show my attitude or how hard I’ve worked? How am I going to inspire other people? That’s what matters.”
Just as Andre has come to grips with his place on the Navy football team – staring role or not – so I’m beginning to come to grips with my place as a writer. Just as it doesn’t matter how many carries Byrd gets, so it doesn’t matter how many people see my stories or what the reaction or perception of them is. What matters is that I am able to tell the tales of young men like Andre, and remind myself and others just what it is that makes the young men at the Naval Academy so special.
Byrd reminds us all that we have a human face. From the anonymous scout team player to the janitor cleaning up the postgame restrooms, each individual has value and a purpose in their life. Yes, even cynical, career-driven sports writers. At a time in my life when I’ve been looking for something to remind me of why it is that I write and why it is that I get up every morning, God, by way of Andre Byrd, provided me with that lesson.
“A lot of people search for love and search for purpose or why they are here in life,” Andre said, perfectly summing up the struggle I’ve often found myself immersed in.
“I’m just trying to get out to people that if they search for God, He will show you what you are here for in life,” he concluded.
Andre Byrd has already helped to show me what I’m here for. Has he shown you?
Adam Nettina is a senior at Utah State University majoring in History, and the Sports Editor of the Utah Statesman. You can follow him online at twitter.com/AdamNettina