It’s always nice to come across articles that are honest about professional athletes’ lives, particularly the arena of failure. I do not mean that it’s enjoyable to hear about the failure for its own sake (in the schadenfreude sense), just that it brings them down to Earth and can serve as point of connection and sympathy. Such is the case for Austen Lane. In si.com’s recent piece, Lane revisits the day in which he was cut from the Jacksonville Jaguars. With honesty and vulnerability, Lane gives us a closer look into, well, simply not being enough, ht TB:
Why would they cut me? I’ve done everything they asked. After all of the hard work I put in, all the times playing through pain … ”
Seriously, I bet I say to myself 10 times: “I’ve done everything they asked.” Like that’s going to change anything.
“I’ve done everything they asked.” Again and again, with the occasional F word being thrown in for good measure.
David Caldwell, our new GM, young and eager to turn our team around, greets me at the door. I can tell he wasn’t liking his job at the moment. I’ve seen Walmart greeters who have worked a double shift with happier looks on their face. While the anger is still in my mind it starts to dissolve when Coach Bradley, catching me off guard sitting in the corner of the room, comes to greet me as well. I sit down. I quickly scan the foreign room known as the GM’s office and look at pictures hanging up. Just then my focus shifts as I hear my name called again.
“Austen,’’ the general manager says, looking me in the eyes. “We are releasing you.’’
Cue numbness. A verbal lobotomy. That’s what the words “We are releasing you” feel like. I just sit, nodding my head like a human vegetable, saying nothing. Some sentences seep into my consciousness.
“You’re a great player.”
“We just can’t see you fitting the system.”
“You’ll get a shot on another team.’’
This is the very room where I signed my rookie contract to play with the Jaguars! And here is where it ends. I think back to how happy I felt and how elated I was just knowing that I had finally accomplished my dream, signing an NFL contract. Those memories of jubilation soon are replaced with shock. Where had the last three years gone? After the brief daydream, I focus back on the papers that I don’t even bother reading because I don’t care at this point. I just want to get out of the stadium and into my truck. I finish.
“You were one of my favorite players,” the director of football administration, Tim Walsh, says to me.
I smile, say thanks, and walk back in the hallway to await further instruction.
And all I want to do is get in my truck and speed away.
Again I am alone for a brief second until I see my strength coach and an assistant coach in the hallway. I thank them for all they’ve done for me and wish them well. Growing tired of waiting for further direction, I go to the locker room, praying for it to be empty.
I wish they would have gone more in-depth on Hard Knocks about players getting cut, because I have no clue what to do. I head into the locker room and frantically grab all my stuff. All of my teammates are in meetings, and I want to beat them out before they come back. I look around at the vacant lockers and feel a single tear drip down my cheek. A new emotion hits me, one I can’t even name. Here I am trying to get out of the stadium as quickly as possible, but at the same time I feel like going as slowly as possible because this is last time I will ever be here. I want to abandon but cherish this moment, all at the same time.
I take a few deep breaths and grab the rest of my things. The locker-room door opens. Just what I didn’t want: The entire defensive line group is done with its meeting, and now my guys are coming my way. I take one giant deep breath, stop packing and walk up to them. I have no idea what to say, and I don’t want to say much because I don’t want to cry. I shake hands with some, hug others.
Sheesh. What I find interesting, and relatable, is Lane’s desire–as a result of embarrassment and/or shame–to run away and escape. If failing isn’t painful enough in and of itself, facing other people afterward is oftentimes even more excruciating.
After describing his the inner-dialogue about the team and his career with the Jaguars, Lane gets into all-too-familiar territory, especially when push comes to shove:
I get into my truck, throw my keys in the passenger seat and put my head on the steering wheel. My mind starts wandering to a million places. Here are a few of them:
“What am I going to do now?”
“I don’t even have a college degree yet.”
“What am I going to tell my family and friends?”
“Should I just go out on a bender this weekend?“
“Do I really want to be seen in public?”
“Should I just drive for a few hours away from this city?”
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye to everyone.”
“Am I ever going to play this game again?”
“I let everyone down.”
Ten minutes of that—random and pointless, but so unavoidable. Ninety minutes ago I was a Jaguar. Now, without warning, I’m … I don’t know what I am.
Another identity crisis. What’s next? Lane goes to his favorite Pink Floyd album instead of booze and drugs–free of demands and judgement and performing:
While some people may do drugs or drink liquor to alter their state of mind, I simply listen to music. This day calls for something extra strong. I go with one of the greatest and most complete albums of all time. Dark Side of the Moon, by Pink Floyd. For 45 minutes I am taken to a place with no stress, no judgment and no pressure.
When the album ends I open my eyes, breathe a sigh of a relief as if a giant weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I realize that there is no changing my predicament, and whether I like it or not the sun will come up tomorrow and the world will keep going, not caring how I feel. I can’t control what has happened, but I damn sure can control how I will react to it.
Everything, I decide, is going to be okay.
For Lane, going to “a place with no stress, no judgment and no pressure” was prompted by despair and confusion. Perhaps the most helpful way to deal with failure is to sit in it. Perhaps grace and hope and love are found in those moments rather than apart from them. Maybe believing that “everything is going to be okay” actually occurs in the moments of inability, rather than capability.