On Football, Cancer, Life, and Death

>> 10.20.2011

Raven Wing Prints In Snow. Mark Marschall - 1979 - Public domain image.

Jerome Harrison has a brain tumor.

Yesterday, the Lions traded Harrison back to Philadelphia, who’d originally released him after free agent signee Ronnie Brown made Harrison expendable. Harrison was packaged with a reported seventh-round pick in exchange for Brown, who had himself struggled to make an impact for the Eagles.

When the news broke, I was writing a post about arbitrage—the practice of swapping commodities for similar commodities and getting a small advantage. It’s how a kid hit Craigslist with an old cell phone and ended up with a Porsche convertible. It’s how the low-budget Tampa Bay Rays perennially make the playoffs out of a division containing the blank-check Yankees and Red Sox.

The parallel here is obvious: the Lions were trading a talented-but-unused running back and the least-valuable draft pick for more talented running back. However, Harrison and Brown are not wireless devices or cars or pork bellies or shares of stock—they are not commodities. They are human beings.

Brown was devastated, ‘lost for words’ when the trade fell apart. He was excited to get a chance to play for a winning Lions franchise, and now that’s gone. Harrison is already undergoing treatment for a tumor he didn’t know he had two days ago. The trade, in detecting the tumor early, might have saved his life: according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Harrison’s long-term prognosis for life—and football—is “good.”

This is where should I say football is meaningless against a backdrop of life and death, but I won’t, because it isn’t.

Football is part of our lives. Our fandom is woven into our work, our leisure, our money, our time, our families. It’s our respite from the banalities of life and a connection that passes through mortal boundaries. Just this week, my aunt sent my son an old Michigan State football hat that used to belong to my grandfather—literally, half a foam football that sticks up like a conehead. I couldn’t believe my straight-laced Italian Grandpa had ever put that crazy thing on his head. He never met my five-year-old son, but they share a bond through football fandom.

For Harrison and Brown, football is a job, a career, a way of life. Football helped detect this tumor early—and if Harrison makes a full recovery, he’ll go right back to playing football for a living; it’s what he does.

The Detroit Lions franchise has outlived generations of players, coaches, staff, owners, and fans. It existed long before I was born, and hopefully will long after I die. Football doesn’t lose its meaning because Jerome Harrison has a brain tumor—people get brain tumors every day. It’s only because of football that Harrison’s sickness is relevant to our lives.

That may sound callous, but think about it: Harrison’s condition is relevant to our lives. If pink shoes and pink gloves and thousands of twirling pink towels didn’t raise the awareness of the importance of research, screening and early treatment, maybe what’s happened to Harrison will.

Football may have saved Harrison’s life; if even one person does a self-exam or gets screened or donates to research because of his experience even more lives could be saved.

Hint, hint.


Empherical Evidence,  October 23, 2011 at 2:19 AM  

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