Thursday, November 05, 2015

Loving Victims without Condoning Abuse

In 2014, the San Francisco 49ers lost their All-Everything LB, Patrick Willis to injury. Coming in to replace him was a rookie from Wisconsin, Chris Borland, who ended up playing better than Willis for the rest of the season. At the end of the year, Willis decided to retire - seemingly leaving a huge space for Borland to fill. A week later, at 24 years of age, owing $600,000 back to the team, Borland also retired. He was just too scared of future brain damage.

ESPN Magazine does a fantastic job of laying out the conflicting nature of Borland's decision and life. He was all about football and he doesn't necessarily want to take that away from anyone - he won't tell you not to let your kid play - simply that his research and experience scared the heck out of him. At the same time, it also explores his difficult relationship to the game.

Borland is often asked to speak at symposiums about football safety. Mostly these conferences are designed to make the game safer for people. Borland, though, doesn't believe the game can be made safe - that people who think it can be freed from these long term serious medical problems, are just hurting people in the long run. After one rally in support of a paralyzed former player that felt more like a pep rally than anything else, Borland was scratching his head at the whole thing, "You don't have to promote the game to help people who've been hurt by it."

This really hit home for me in a different context.

I don't like war. I don't believe war ever accomplishes anything positive - what may seem good is always overwhelmed by the less visible bad. Fighting puts out society back a step, rather than moving us forward. I pray that all soldiers everywhere, no matter what side they fight for, would simply lay down their arms and refuse to fight. If that happened, there'd be no more war.

At the same time, there is a great need to care for those who've been affected by war. Those who suffer and, perhaps, those who don't realize they suffer. I want to be involved in taking care of veterans and their families - but that cause always seems draped in the flag, like its a patriotic effort in support of war. I know it is for a lot of people, but certainly it doesn't have to be that way.

As a Christian, I should worry more about caring for people than how people perceive my actions, but I do still worry. I'm not sure I can help that. Peace is something I take very seriously; it's at the core of my faith. I wouldn't want someone to get the wrong idea about what I support and condone, especially at a time when my tribe, evangelical Christians, seems so ready and willing to support blasphemous violence in the name of Christ.

At the same time, as much as I believe in peace, I believe it happens because of love. I believe that love shown to someone, even if the reasons are unclear or obscured, will have an effect on people, drawing them more into a life of love. I believe that supporting veterans unconditionally can and will lead people away from fighting simply by the example of love.

In the end, I resonate strongly with the conflicting position Borland finds himself in - both as a respecter of football and someone afraid of its effect on the world (and the individuals who play). He talks about it as dehumanizing, but doesn't want to violate those people who deeply love the game. He's trying to care for people while not caring for the thing they love.

I get it. I wish we had more space for this kind of tension in our society.

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