On Sunday morning, I saw an interesting story about jersey swapping in the NFL. Before COVID, players would give an autographed jersey to a player on the opposing team, following a game. As part of its COVID guidelines, the NFL prohibited the tradition. Until a couple of weeks ago. The story I saw described how the NFL is partnering with Tide laundry detergent. Each player signs a jersey, with a permanent marker, which is then washed with Tide Hygienic Clean detergent, before it is mailed to the player in the exchange. It’s one of those backstories which offers us, the fans, a glimpse of the close relationships that professional athletes have.
I had no idea how the closeness of NFL players would be affirmed during the Cowboys-Giants contest. Sunday evening as I was catching up on the highlights of the NFL games played, I learned about the injury to Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback. As he was running to make a first down, he and a Giant’s defensive player got tangled up. Prescott’s right ankle was broken during the play. As the medical personnel rushed onto the field to tend to him, the Cowboys were seen kneeling, praying, and surrounding Prescott, showing their support for him. Facebook posts and tweets came in from all over the league, with other players and even coaches expressing their support for Prescott.
I couldn’t help but be touched by the way the NFL community came together to talk about what receiving a jersey from another player meant, even if they were delivered through the mail, followed by how Dak Prescott’s injury caused an outpouring of support from other players and coaches. That sense of community isn’t only evident when someone is injured. During the month of October, players don the color pink in honor of breast cancer month. The NFL Players Association has a long partnership with United Way. And this year, as the pandemic began, the NFL contributed $35 million to COVID relief efforts.
The goodwill and mission stories that are part of what it means to be a player in the NFL are often lost in the stats reports, interviews, and featured coverage of who is the best, or who to consider for your fantasy league. In the three hours of shows which typically air before a game, very little time is spent on how the players support their communities through giving away a portion of what they’ve earned, visit the sick or the next generation, and seek to provide a voice for those who would otherwise go unheard.
Does that sound familiar? Isn’t that we have been called to do? Support one another in our communities, by reaching out with kind words of support or gifts like food, a card, or a prayer shawl. Lift up one another in prayer when we learn someone is hurt or ill, sharing our love and concern with the One who created us all. We give back to the Lord a portion of what we have received so that missions and ministries in our faith communities, neighborhoods, cities, towns, and villages can grow.
It may not seem like it, with all the tension that is part of our life journeys right now. However, this is a time of inspiration and an opportunity to cultivate the soil and plant new seeds. We are being encouraged to support, strengthen, and care for one another. And not because of a pandemic, but in spite of it. We can share our best selves with each other, as we seek to become more like Jesus every day. And Amen.