A Seat in the Bleachers: It isn’t a war out there

The harsh realities of war put sports in their proper perspective.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Two hes­itant handshakes last Saturday night:

On my way out of Pinhead Susan’s restaurant, I stopped to say goodbye to some of the guys who work there, including Brian McDonald, the Albany Academy quarterback.

His right arm was in a sling, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but he was OK to shake somebody’s hand, despite having injured his shoulder in the Cadets’ final game, against South Glens Falls.

The juxtaposition of another farewell at the other end of the bar two hours earlier was inescapable.

Rich from Endicott was gathering his bags to catch the 5:10 bus home to Binghamton after having visited his sister in Troy.

After sharing a couple of beers with this friendly stranger for a half hour, with the Redskins-Seahawks game on the TV overhead, I wasn’t sure if perhaps I should extend my left hand to him, since he had rolled up his sleeve to show me three pretty fresh bullet wounds to the underside of his right forearm.

He showed me how he had raised both arms to block the shots that would have otherwise hit him in the face.

When he moved his fingers, you could see two tendons in the middle of his arm jut out unnaturally.

The doctors who want to fix this will have to drill holes in all of his fingertips and attach rubberbands to various tendons, Rich said.

Rich is a soldier and an engineer who was stationed in Okinawa “with a good job, learning demol­ition, you know, collapsing buildings,” when he was sent to Iraq to man checkpoints and search dark houses for people with weapons, which he has been doing for most of the last year.

He has three months to decide if he wants to go back.

Two things came to mind after talking to Rich and Brian.

Here’s a pledge to never again use tasteless war references in des­cribing events for a sports article. I urge everyone in my profession to do the same.

Some expressions, like “blitz” in football, are unavoidable and have assumed new definitions from the original, but I believe we can think of a better way to describe a game than to say that one team “bombed” the other.

I winced a little while watching a game on TV the other night, and the announcer said something to the effect of “so-and-so has a bullseye on his back.”

Am I being hypersensitive or pol­itically correct? Who cares.

The other lightbulb that re-lit itself was how easy we forget what a gift it is to do simple things like throw a football, make a free throw, swing a putter, jog to the corner.

As easy as it is to get preachy about all this, it’s just as easy to forget.

I know Brian McDonald doesn’t take these precious things for granted.

You could tell from the glum tone of voice in which he told me that he was “on” the Albany Academy basketball team this winter, but not really on it, because he couldn’t help the team with his arm in a sling. Also, when he spoke of getting hurt in the South High game, he said, “I stayed in the game,” knowing the risk of making the injury worse. Academy lost, 34-0.

Rich from Endicott has discovered other things that are easy to take for granted.

When he sleeps at night, he’s careful to lie on his back, with his right arm resting across his chest.

He jerked his head to the side a little as some diners filed behind him.

“I never used to do that,” he said.

Categories: Sports

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