Sometimes we forget. We analyze, criticize, immortalize, and demonize professional athletes every day. We worship them. We love them. We follow t
hem. We hate them. We berate them. We toss them aside.
Then tragedy strikes and we are reminded that these men and women gifted with such extraordinary skills, living their lives on such an open stage, beneath the white hot lamp of public criticism are, in fact, human. They live and breathe. They hope and dream. They laugh. They cry. They even die.
Jay Novacek was a Dallas Cowboy from 1990—1995. Before coming to the Cowboys, he was a St. Louis/Arizona Cardinal. Before turning pro, he was a standout tight end for the University of Wyoming Cowboys. During his six years with the Dallas Cowboys, he earned five Pro Bowl trips and was named All-Pro once. He was a favorite target for quarterback Troy Aikman.
He was also a fan favorite.
Today, he is a widower. His wife LeAnne, for reasons unknown at this point, while visiting her mother in Burleson, Texas, elected to end her own life. Details are still sketchy. The Dallas Morning News is reporting that she died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was only 45 years old.
By all accounts, LeAnne was a beautiful woman. She seemed happy and well-adjusted. She and Jay were involved in the community in meaningful ways. Jay and LeAnne were honorary co-chairmen of the Careity Foundation event called “Branded.” According to their website, the Careity Foundation “exists to provide personal, holistic, on-site care and counseling for economically challenged cancer patients in the Tarrant, Parker and Johnson County areas.”
A year ago, Jay was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. His honors have been many. His accomplishments even more. But his loss is beyond comprehension to those of us who have never gotten that phone call.
Today, Jay Novacek is not a College Hall of Fame Tight End. Today, he is not a highly-decorated receiver on a three-time Super Bowl Championship team. Today, he is not anyone’s spokesman or honorary chairman.
Today, Jay Novacek is a husband whose wife has tragically died way too soon. Today, he is a man dealing with a mortal loss. Today, he is a human, grieving, questioning, struggling.
Today, we are reminded that these men and women whose athletic prowess creates for us an escape from the bitter trials of everyday life, whose accomplishments on the field of athletic endeavor provide for us a sense of identity and community pride, actually live and die in the same hard world we do.
Today, we don’t cheer or boo the athlete. Today, we pray for the man and his family. Today, perhaps more than any day before this, we are the same as he: mortal, vulnerable, and in need of the support of those who love us…and sometimes even those who do not.
Tomorrow, we can choose sides and cheer for our own. We can deify some and villify others. We can argue, criticize, excoriate…tomorrow.
But not today. Let’s pray instead.