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Sports are people, too

POSTED: October 23, 2013 9:00 a.m.

Did you know that football was very nearly outlawed in the state of Georgia? With all the talks of player safety and making the game less violent, and how these discussions are often mocked in current culture, we forget how brutal football was at its inception.

After the first two games of Georgia’s 1897 season against Clemson and Georgia Tech, the team coached by legendary Pop Warner found tragedy.

A young man named Richard Von Albade Gammon, known as “Von Gammon” for short, died Halloween 1897 after receiving a severe concussion in a University of Georgia football game against the University of Virginia a day earlier.

The Georgia legislature passed a bill almost immediately in attempt to ban the sport and needed only the signature of then-governor William Yates Atkinson to make it law. However, Von Gammon’s mother, Rosalind Burns Gammon, sent an impassioned letter to the governor asking that her son’s beloved game not be outlawed. It was his passion. His life. He loved football, and he would not want his death to prevent others from loving the game, too.

She is often referred to as the woman who saved football in Georgia.

On a dark note, her son Will died after a baseball game three years later, albeit from falling under a train. Interestingly, nobody presented a law to ban trains from Georgia.

The reason football was not outlawed that day in 1897 had nothing to do with football itself. It had everything to do with the people who played football. It had everything to do with the men who enjoyed the game and excelled at the game.

I had the privilege of watching my twin niece and nephew, Avery and Ryleigh, play tee ball the other night, and I have to tell you as a proud uncle that they won 13-9. I will also tell you that as a proud uncle I would not have been watching that game if not for my niece and nephew’s participation in it.

I did not pull up to the Hebron athletic complex in Dacula and say to myself, “Gee, I wonder if there are any exciting games of tee ball going on tonight.” No. That would have been rather silly.

My wife and I went to see them play because we love those kids. They’re family, and we wanted to support them.

I remember growing up that my middle sister played track and field in high school. She threw discus, and I thought that was really cool. So you know what I did in high school? My unathletic self trampled out onto the field and tossed a discus around for four years. It was fun, too, even though I was abysmal at it.

But I did it because of family. My oldest sister played basketball for Dacula, true, but I wasn’t nearly athletic enough to slump my way onto a for-real basketball team, so that was out.

We get so caught up in athletics that we can forget about the people and the families behind them. Friday night at Winder-Barrow, Loganville’s Coach Eric Godfree had his players wear gold stickers that said “WW” in honor of Winder-Barrow’s Coach David Wagner and his son’s battle with cancer.

That is the epitome of sportsmanship; remembering the person behind the sport and not just the sport itself.

Winder-Barrow’s Tyler and Joey Junius get to play football together, and I’m sure their families love watching them play together on the field and on the team. This is a rare and beautiful thing you do not get to see in sports beyond high school all that often. Sure, you get situations like the Pouncey brothers at Florida, or the Uptons in Atlanta, but these are but an occasional reminder.

We can get so caught up in winning a game that we forget about the people involved who are actually playing that game. As fans, what business do we have dictating any of it? The best we can do, and the best we should do, is sit back and enjoy the game, and enjoy the efforts of the athletes and families giving their all to win the game.

There is a certain respect that comes from competition, and it’s something that fans do not have the blessing of experiencing, but when you compete against someone, you have to respect them for their ability and their effort because you’ve been there. They’re trying to win the game just as hard as you are, and there’s a respect born from that.

When you’re on the field, your teammates have that respect for you, too. They become your family, in a way.

I know we always want to win the game and best our opponent. If you can’t go on the field and expect to win, maybe you shouldn’t be out there, but we cannot sacrifice respect for each other and respect for the game for anything.

Von Gammon gave his life for respect of the game, and his mother honored that gift. The young men and women who play sports today love and respect the game, too, along with their coaches and coordinators. Who are we to dishonor their respect for the game?

Who are we to disrespect the game? Sports are about people, not numbers. Remember that next time you visit the stadium and have something on your mind to say. Respect the people, and respect the game.

 

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