After a week of hints, leaks, and even agent denials, official word came yesterday that Marcus Lattimore will end his quest to play in the NFL and retire, effective immediately.
The outpouring of support for Lattimore, from both inside and outside the South Carolina football community, was certainly impressive. Many wished him well in his future endeavors, others expressed optimism for his career transition, and some even suggested that Divine Providence had intervened, predestining Marcus for some other avenue of service.
But something about our response troubles me. I would like to humbly suggest that we are doing Marcus a disservice by shuffling him off the stage so quickly with these well-meaning platitudes. Aren’t we skipping several of the five stages of grief? Aren’t we all the way to an ACCEPTANCE of Lattimore’s plight without making the other necessary stops on the grieving road? And are we way ahead of him in this process?
I, for one, am still in Stage Two of the grief paradigm: ANGER.
How is it possible that someone as honest, genuine, and hardworking as Marcus Lattimore could have his livelihood and passion stolen away from him? How could his last two years of painful rehabilitation be for naught? Or the grueling year of rehab before that? What did all that accomplish? How could a nice guy not finish on top?
And how could other players, generally recognized as lacking in honesty, class, and/or generosity of spirit, be seemingly invincible? I’m not going to name names here, but you all know the players I am referencing: those that lack many of Marcus’s good attributes, and usually embody a smug self-centeredness instead. And yet, we are bombarded with images of those players, their seemingly unworthy arms raised in triumph. And now or very soon, most all will be collected hefty NFL salaries. No way is this situation fair.
How could those bad apples end up with all the sauce?
As we’ve previously argued in this space, the world of sports is most compelling when it exposes something true about our nature or situation in the world. In this case, I think we are too quick to explain away Lattimore’s incredible bad luck because it tells us something profound about life that we are uncomfortable accepting: that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Our fear of facing this universal truth leads us to dismiss this sad news as quickly as possible and jump back into blissfully reassuring each other.
Let me illustrate: When my oldest son was still a toddler, he suffered the normal cuts and scrapes appropriate for his age. New parents still, we sought to reassure our hurting child with calls of “It’s OK,” or “What’s the matter? It will be alright!” We did this so much, that soon our child internalized it, and began using those phrases back at us as soon as he was banged up. Scrape a knee? Run to daddy and tell him “What’s the matter? It’s OK, nothing’s wrong!” All while still crying from the pain he felt.
We ultimately realized that instead of reassuring our son so quickly, we needed to sympathize with him for at least a few seconds. “Ouch, buddy, I bet that hurts! Let’s see if I can help.”
So in this space, for just a few seconds, let’s admit that Lattimore’s retirement bothers us. I’m sure its bothering him. And let’s wrestle with the big question his plight reveals:
Why do bad things happen to good people?
The investigation of this question is called theodicy, and it’s a question that bedeviled theologians from the writer of Job to Augustine to C.S. Lewis. None of them came up with a satisfactory solution. Job never got his answer; the Almighty pulled rank on him and told him to be quiet. Augustine copped out in his quest; choosing instead to play games with language in order to explain away the problem. And C.S Lewis was classically circular in his argument: God is good and God made the rules, and therefore the rules are good (evidence notwithstanding).
Theodicy is probably beyond the scope of a lowly Gamecock sports blog, but here’s my take on the age-old question:
Bad things happen to good people because the real truth of our existence is that it really, really sucks now and then, and for long stretches of time at that.
Bad things happen to good people.
And the reason is this: just because.
We should look at each other with clear eyes and admit this truth. Things are bad sometimes, and apparently there is no logic to those who suffer and those who thrive. Fate rains both good and bad on the just and the unjust, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t earn our way to blessings.
I’m angry about that. Specifically, right now I’m angry about how that relates to Marcus. And, public comments notwithstanding, I bet he is as well.
Marcus did everything right. And it didn’t matter. His college career, for all its success, was cut ridiculously short by injuries. And he never got a chance to realize his dream. And that is awful. Wrong. Stupid. Wasteful. I’m going to shake my fist at heaven a few more times before I’m ready to move on to step three: Bargaining.
But maybe the Bargain is the answer.
Maybe once we admit that bad things can happen to anyone, we will appreciate the random good things all the more. The next time we see a Gamecock like Pharoh Cooper make an incredible catch and run, let’s all collectively live in that moment and relish it. No what-ifs, no regrets, no second guessing, just enjoy watching a top-shelf athlete play the game with complete dedication to the team we all love.
And as for Marcus?
All I can say is ouch, buddy. I bet this is really hurting you. Is there anything we Gamecocks can do to make it better?