Virtual Voices

Football, mortality, and the Reids

Sports

Andy Reid took over as head coach of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles in 1999. In the past 13 years he has led the Eagles to six division championships, five conference title games, and one Super Bowl appearance. He holds the franchise coaching record for regular season and playoff victories. Reid has had a remarkably successful coaching career (despite what the notoriously cranky Philly fans might say). But today he would trade all that success for a single gift, the gift of his son's life.

On Sunday, Aug. 5, Garrett Reid was found dead in a dorm room at Lehigh Valley College, where the Eagles were in the middle of training camp. (Cause of death has yet to be released to the public.) He had been on campus assisting the Eagles' strength coaches.

Over the past several years, Garrett had traveled a perilous road of drug use, drug dealing, and incarceration. In 2007, things were so bad for Garrett and his brother Britt that Andy took a five-week leave of absence from his coaching duties to help them with rehab and their respective legal troubles. It was an unheard of move in a profession that is utterly unforgiving and in which coaches often work around the clock.

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In recent months, though, it seemed Garrett had turned a corner. He was clean, he was contributing to the team, and he was well-liked. Then, overnight, he was gone. Garrett Reid was 29 years old.

Football is game that elicits great passion. It draws our joy, anguish, and ire, and coaches are often the object of that ire. It can be difficult to remember that there is a man, a real human, behind that microphone on the sidelines as we scream insults at our televisions or from our seat in the stands. Sadly it takes stories like this to remind us that our athletic foils and heroes and objects of scorn are all mortal souls. They feel pain and loss. They know grief. They suffer.

This story caught my eye because I am football fan, but it wrenched my heart because I am a father. And it sent a chill down my spine because I, too, am 29 years old. I could be either Andy or Garrett. That is sobering.

And sobering is what this story should be for everyone. There are no pithy perspectives or witticisms or controversy. Instead there should be compassion, grief, and reflection. We are reminded that life is not ours to control either at the beginning or the end. And thus we should be driven to dependence on God-dependence for life temporal and life eternal.

As we enjoy this marvelous game of football, as we cheer and jeer, let us keep in mind the realities of mortality, eternity, and our utter dependence on God. Our lives are not our own. They were bought with a price. May the sobering, heartbreaking story of Garrett and Andy Reid bring gravity and perspective to both our fandom and our living.

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