I’m going to get the “Full Disclosure” business out of the way right up front. Since my husband and I grew up in the Chicago area and still have family ties there, it’s Chicago sports teams that we cheer for. Also, I’m not a super-sports-fan to begin with. I enjoy watching the games with family and friends, but it’s the social aspect, not the sport itself, that I’m most interested in.
All of this is to explain that even though I – like so many others – was glued to the TV set during the Vikings/Seahawks playoff game a few weeks ago, I didn’t have a vested interest in the outcome. I gasped along with everyone else when Blair Walsh missed a field goal with half a minute left in the game, but I didn’t have an emotional or violent reaction to it – although I knew many people would.
Even so, I was deeply disturbed a few days later when I read a newspaper article that quoted some of the vicious messages to Walsh that were posted on social media, telling him that every Vikings fan hated him, that he should leave Minnesota, and that he let down the entire state. Other posts threatened or suggested physical violence to Walsh.
Although I was appalled, I wasn’t really surprised. I’ve seen too many examples of the bold and brutal way people rant and ramble when they can do so anonymously, hidden behind their computer or smartphone screens. Cyberbullying has literally become a life-and-death issue, with murders and suicides attributed to situations that began with online attacks. The fury directed toward Blair Walsh only confirmed that I have good cause to fear for the future of our civilization.
Thankfully, I got a new perspective the following day, when I read a much more uplifting article on the subject. It was about the first graders who wrote and sent letters of encouragement and support to Walsh, letters that said things like, “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes,” “Don’t worry, it’s just a game,” and “Keep on trying.”
Learning about these kids and their actions has restored my faith in humanity. And I give a lot of the credit not only to the students, but to the teacher who had the presence of mind to turn the incident into a hands-on lesson on empathy and compassion. She helped the children to imagine how they would feel in someone else’s position, and to think about what he must be going through. The lesson was its own reward, but made even sweeter when Blair Walsh visited the school to thank the kids in person, and to let them know how much their actions meant to him. He may have lost some fans with his missed kick on Sunday, but he sure gained a lot of fans by how he handled himself afterwards.
Including this Chicago Bears fan. I’ll always be cheering for my Chicago team, but when it comes to individual players, especially with regard to their character off the field, I’m putting Blair Walsh at the head of the class.
And as for both our football teams, there’s always next year.
The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on January 21, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016
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