Last week gave us some of the best and worst the SEC can offer in two situations separated by miles, circumstance and vastly different levels of empathy.
First, we saw remarkable displays of kindness from Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban, both of whom consoled Razorbacks center Frank Ragnow after the loss of the player’s father because of a heart attack on Oct. 1. Bielema flew with Ragnow to the lineman’s native Minnesota to offer assistance during a terrible time for the young man, and Saban sought out Ragnow on the field following the Crimson Tide’s victory over Arkansas last Saturday to deliver a personal message of support.
But the week included cringe-worthy moments as well. There was too much finger-pointing and short-sighted reaction after the postponement of the LSU-Florida game because of concerns related to Hurricane Matthew. Some of the words tossed around were ignorant, insensitive and embarrassing.
The lessons from both scenarios show us why it’s always best to choose care and compassion over shallow cynicism in all areas of life.
We love college football because of its ability to serve as an escape, to serve as a release, to serve as a break from our complicated challenges at home, school or work. During fall Saturdays, we savor a simpler existence in which we cheer, indulge in our fandom and live vicariously through players who are trying to figure out where they fit in the world.
But sports can also make clear how human we are. They can reveal the best of us as well as our warts.
The stark contrast between the situation involving Ragnow and the petty reaction to the postponement of the LSU-Florida game should serve as a lesson that there’s a deeper benefit to building up someone rather than tearing a person down. It’s important to keep perspective rather than to allow emotion to hijack our reason, our sensitivity and our understanding of a moment’s power.
Certainly, Bielema and Saban didn’t offer comfort to Ragnow for headlines. But both men were lauded for their responses, and more importantly, they likely left a positive impression on Ragnow that will last far into the future. Bielema and Saban used their respective platforms to enrich rather than to enrage.
In the process, they made us all take note.
“I thought I needed to get Frank home,” Bielema said via SEC Country’s Jason Kersey. “So that was it.”
“I lost my father when I was in my first year of graduate school,” Saban said via SEC Country’s Marq Burnett. “He’s a fine young man and player. For him to have to go through that, our thoughts and prayers are with his family. I wanted to tell him that, and try to encourage him to some kind of way embrace the good memories and the good times that he had with his father because that’ll be something that he can keep with him forever.”
We don’t need something as tragic as Ragnow’s situation to present a similar gift to others. At their core, the actions by Bielema and Saban were simple gestures of compassion. The actions were recognition that there’s a larger world that exists beyond the personal desires and daily responsibilities that can consume us all.
Even men as busy and with as many demands placed upon them as Bielema and Saban found time to lift someone in a moment of need. Simple kindness can go a long way.
Unfortunately, more awareness was needed in some of the reaction to the postponement of the LSU-Florida game.
Last Friday, Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio was right when calling FOX Sports’ Clay Travis “insensitive” after Travis suggested the Gators used Hurricane Matthew to dodge LSU. On Monday, Florida coach Jim McElwain was correct in highlighting the ridiculous nature of Travis’ take.
“Nineteen deaths, 2.5 million devastated without power, families in dire needs. Obviously they don’t know me, they don’t know the Florida Gators, they don’t know our players,” McElwain said via SEC Country’s Ryan Young. “Dodging a game? Wow. … How anybody could even think that way is beyond me.”
It’s fair to wonder why the LSU-Florida game can’t happen. But concluding that the Gators used the storm to avoid the Tigers to gain an advantage in the SEC East race is a stretch. The perspective lacks mature reasoning or awareness of the millions affected by a dangerous situation.
It’s silly to entertain a bizarre conspiracy theory when so much more was at stake with the hurricane.
What to make of all this? Life is full of moments that test us. Life is full of moments that shape us. Life is full of moments that present us the chance to help others or make us appear tone deaf.
During an eventful week in the SEC, both sides of that spectrum were on display and offered teaching moments for us all. We’re not perfect. But we’re all better off when we choose selflessness over self-centered perspectives, when we choose to consider something larger than ourselves over concerns that are surface deep.
Thanks to Bielema and Saban, we saw heartfelt gestures that will be recalled as some of the best this season will offer, with both acts serving as examples of what’s possible when we consider something larger than ourselves. Let’s remember those moments as the true legacy of last week.