The Book of Job, St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and Marcus Lattimore

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.

Hail to Thee, Marcus

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?

10 thoughts on “The Book of Job, St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and Marcus Lattimore

  1. I really enjoyed your article. . .one thought. .. Marcus’s story is not over yet. Many times in life things that seem like they are bad end up being good in the long run. God works in mysterious ways is all I’m saying. I hope this is the case for Lattimore. Go Gamecocks!

  2. Why do bad things happen to good people? Because, and you are right, that’s life but when bad things happen to good people, what goes around comes around and a lot of times what comes around is something better then what you just left!!

  3. Not being an overly religious person myself (read: except in situations of indescribable pain or seemingly life threatening situations), I still like to believe that there is some connecting force in the universe that binds us all. A balance. Why do good things happen to good people? Because bad things happen, and it’s the good people who can handle them.

    I’m incredibly saddened by the too-soon end to the Marcus Lattimore’s football career. I feel cheated, and all fans of this game should feel cheated that they didn’t get to see more of him. But I will always remember what Marcus did for me as a fan. I’ll always remember Mark Bradley’s line in the AJC (“I saw Herschel. I saw Emmitt. I saw Bo. Now I’ve seen Marcus Lattimore.”). All the touchdowns, all the amazing runs. But more than that, I’ll remember what Marcus did for HIS university. HIS community.

    The story of Marcus Lattimore the football player is a tragedy, and no one should forget that. But the story of Marcus Lattimore the human being is yet to be told. And if there’s anyone who can rise from tragedy and turn it into victory, it’s Marcus.

    It’s funny, my dad and I have always bonded over Gamecock football. And it’s still the primary topic of conversation between us. And when it came to Marcus, one thing we would always talk about is how amazing Marcus was around the goal line. No one I’ve ever seen was as good at getting into the endzone when the ball was inside the 5. And that’s because Marcus is a finisher. And while his end-game is not what any of us expected, least of all Marcus, I’m sure, I have no doubt that he’ll punch the ball in, because that’s what he does.

    It’s terrible that this happened. It’s maddening that someone like Marcus couldn’t get his fairytale ending. But I think the reason so many Gamecock fans moved to the final stage of grief so quickly is because it’s Marcus. And we know, better than anyone, 21 will find a way to score.

  4. In reality, there was only one good person and they killed Him.

    I do appreciate Marcus Lattimore and his arrival at USC made a huge impact on the program. I hope the Gamecocks will hire him in some capacity.

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