Been home from Germany over a month now. I’ve made some decent progress on the book. Going through the notes reminds me of all the great times I had over there. What a wonderful experience it was living and working with all my friends overseas. Here is a little of the first draft.
…Now at 46, the toll football left on his body is permanent. Mille has a limp and wears a knee brace during activity. Today, his skiing will end early when the pain becomes too bothersome. Mille’s body’s paid a price for his years in pads, but he maintains the game gave back more than it took.
After a bad knee injury in 1997, most thought Mille would never play again. While in the hospital, he looked at his life and decided to make changes. Returning home, he vowed that he would play again and committed to getting back on the field. Mille was also in an unhappy marriage and determined it was time to make a break and got a divorce.
’97 was a bad year for the Razorbacks as well. The youth program was depleted and they lost every game. After the season the team suspended play.
Left without a team, several Razorbacks joined the Konstanz 89ers in 1998. After a grueling rehab, Mille returned to play O-line for the 89ers.
In 1999, the Razorbacks were re-established and the former Razorbacks returned home. It was a great year, the team won the 5th division championship and Mille, now at linebacker, played well.
“It changed my life.” Mille says about his ordeal. Football showed him he could achieve anything if he works for it. He made tough decisions and through determination and discipline, is happier than when he began.
What he says is familiar. I know from personal experience that football builds boys into men and teaches life skills not taught in a class room. It did for me. Though the circumstances were different, I look back on several places where football changed my life for the better. I first learned about commitment and toughness as a high school player, achieving my goal of becoming a starting guard despite my 5-4 stature. During my divorce, coaching probably kept me from going crazy, giving me a purpose.
Building character is the main argument for athletics in the American school system, (A very strange concept to most Europeans.) Except for major colleges and the NFL, football in the US is almost always about character training. Players may enjoy playing, but the effort and commitment serve different purposes.
Here, football and athletics are not supposed to build character. In Europe, sports are simply about exercise and fun. People play football, soccer, team handball or ride bikes or skateboards for fresh air and to enjoy a beer or cigarette afterwards with friends. Coaches don’t preach life lessons after every practice as many do in the US. Educational Euros aren’t allocated here to instill discipline, that job is left to parents. In Europe, schools teach academics and job skills, not character.
That Mille credits football with teaching him to be a better person comes as a surprise. It tells me that even when character building isn’t a direct goal, it inherently exists in football. It’s never preached here but teamwork, discipline, toughness and commitment are so ingrained in football that it rubs off on players whether playing for semi-pro teams in Europe or an American high school.
As someone who loves the game for its intellectual challenges and beauty, as well as for the lessons it teaches, Milles’ testimony is exciting. I came to Europe hoping to recognize the game in a way I could understand and here it is. Maybe, football does translate outside North America in ways I hadn’t expected.