JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (April 15, 2022) –
“It’s the sport of kings.
Better than diamond rings.
-- LL Cool J
There’s just something about going outside and running around with friends. It’s like nothing else in the world. Scientists and doctors will tell you about endorphins or other chemical reactions that the body produces. I’m no doctor, no scientist, no scholar. All I know is that there is something amazing that happens when you go out and truly allow yourself to enjoy the moment, when nothing else matters but the game you’re playing and you lose yourself in the sheer joy of the now.
I was able to do that on April 1 with almost 40 other Brooke Army Medical Center staff members. They took to the field at Freedom Park, behind the USO’s Warrior Family Support Center for a game of flag football. It was the culmination to March’s “Building Back Grit and Resiliency” month. During that month, we all had several opportunities to relax, reflect, and recover from a lot of the difficulties we’ve all been facing over the last few years. Because, let’s face it, it’s been a huge strain on the medical field. Facing down a pandemic is no mean feat and our folks here have done it with both a determination and grace that are – quite frankly – inspiring.
So, we took to the field. We’d invited some former NFL Players to join us and a few accepted the offer and joined us to serve as coaches. Rodrick Walker, who had been with the Houston Texans and is now serving as the president of the NFL Players Association San Antonio/Austin Chapter, and Mike Hendricks, who played for the Buffalo Bills during his NFL career, helped lead the teams. And me? I was the default referee for this game.
And so it went that I was able to gain a different perspective of the game as it went on. The staff members who were on the teams were focused on their play, on their teammates, and on the players of the opposing team. There were catches, runs, throws, and strategies brought into play throughout the game. But, I could see the sheer release in all of the players. I could see just how much fun they were having and how far away any concerns they’d be carrying into the day had faded. And I think that was the lesson.
The day wasn’t just about the game. It was a great one, by the way. Both teams had some fantastic give and take. In the end, one team only won by one touchdown when the timer ran out. There were schoolyard-legend plays on both sides throughout the game – heroic catches when it seemed there was no way for a reception and nigh-impossible runs through defenders with fingers narrowly missing their hold on the flags only through the skillful twisting and leaping of the runner. But the day wasn’t all about that. It was about the joy the game brings. It was about the release.
I saw professional Soldiers reverting back to the best of what we all were when we were kids. I saw them playfully taunting each other, running – almost scampering – back and forth across the field with almost reckless abandon, and just laughing. Laughing with each other over a play done particularly well or laughing at another player for something done hilariously wrong. There was no malice in the laughter. There was just recognition of the little mistakes that we all learn from. It was as simple and pure as that. And I was able to watch all of this from my perspective.
I could see the spectators getting into the same spirit of the game, into the spirit of a shared childhood. It wasn’t about football. It was about getting out and playing, about setting adult responsibilities aside for a little bit while letting the kid run around or hoot and holler on the sidelines.
When the timer went off, I ended the game. No one was happy to end it. There was a brief – again, childlike – call for “five more minutes” but, as the game wrapped up, both sides lines up and slapped hands as they passed each other with a “Good game” and a smirk or a smile. The spell was broken, but I could see its effects lingering as they departed. There were “Oh, do you remember that play when…” or “Did you see when I…” conversations in excited tones springing up as they walked to their cars. And they did so with a little more bounce than they had before the game started.
I like to think that the magic lingered for a while, that when the players who came out for the game are stressed in their jobs, they can reach back and dip their mental fingers into the memories and that the magic will help them again. Because it’s always there. Childhood, playing, games, and simple joys, are always there. All we have to do is allow ourselves to remember them, to allow ourselves to revel in them when we think our adult responsibilities are all there are to the world. We need to remember that there is power in letting go – even if it’s a brief release. It allows us to get perspective, and maybe to find a better hold so the load of being an adult is more bearable.
So, go out and play sometime. Go out and run – not for the exercise, but just for the simple joy of running. Find an outside activity – not because it’s healthy or sensible, but because it’s fun. I think we all need to just let go sometimes and go out to rediscover the simple power of play time. That’s just my two cents, though.