A Christmas Miracle

img_0583I’m guessing most of Steeler Nation is hoping for a Christmas miracle tomorrow, although I’m actually hoping the game won’t appear to require one. But that isn’t the Christmas miracle to which I was referring. No, this miracle has already happened.

Leading up to the Bengals game last week there was a tremendous amount of chatter about what was likely to transpire in the way of dirty play, fights, and possible injuries. Both head coaches assured the public that their guys were focused only on the game. After all, why wouldn’t they be? A Bengals loss would eliminate them from any possibility of making the playoffs. A Steelers loss wouldn’t do so, but would greatly complicate what appears to be the only path into the playoffs from the AFC North this season—winning the division.

And as we know, the Steelers kept calm, for the most part. Ramon Foster commented after the game that essentially every single time they huddled Ben Roethlisberger was calming his players down and reminding them to keep their eyes on the prize. As a result, on the offense there was only a single Unnecessary Roughness call, on Marcus Gilbert. And that was because he was pulling Vontaze Burfict off of Le’Veon Bell to stop the extracurricular activities in which Burfict was indulging.

And I use the word “indulging” very deliberately, being as Burfict has done enough things during his career which are entirely gratuitous to make it appear he enjoys inflicting pain and/or damaging things—witness multiple incidences of plowing into guys who aren’t anywhere near the ball (like Maxx Williams last season, or Rosie Nix in last week’s game.) There was also the NFL cameraman he plowed into, apparently quite deliberately, for no better reason than to create havoc and destruction. (He also managed to injure the cameraman.)

As a result, he’s an easy person to dislike. After all, the human tendency is to assign people either a white or a black hat, like the old westerns, and to then seek out information to confirm one’s bias. And you would think that some of the people who would dislike a player like Burfict the most intensely are those who are most at risk from his activities. That would go for the players, but even more, I would think, for their families.

So here comes the Christmas miracle. Ben Roethlisberger related the following incident on his Tuesday morning radio program on 93.7 The Fan (as reported by Mark Kaboly on DK Pittsburgh Sports.) It took place after the play in which Ben handed the ball off to Sammie Coates on a sweep and Burfict ran in, quite late, and smashed Ben to the ground:

“I actually talked to him,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t even know if he said anything to me. I told him, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity for me to tell you exactly what my wife wanted to tell you if I got the chance. She wanted me to tell you that she’s praying for you.’ That’s what I told him, no joke. He had nothing to say back to me.”

I was amazingly moved by this. I’m guessing that the injuries are even more upsetting to the players’ spouses than to the players themselves, at least in the moment. To some extent it’s all in a day’s work for the players, and everything is going at top speed. The spouse has to watch it happen.

I remember seeing a game late in Kurt Warner’s career—it was almost certainly the 2008 Super Bowl. At one point in the game Warner was hit by an opposing player and went to the ground.  A camera quickly cut to Warner’s wife in the stands. I’ll never forget the look on her face, although in that instance Warner was fine. And this was before the general public had anything like the amount of information they now do about head injuries.

The spouses are all living with the possibility, in each game, of the hit coming which takes away their husband’s career and/or their quality of life. We occasionally see hits from which it isn’t entirely obvious the player will ever get up. So how much more difficult it is to think kindly of someone who appears to actually take pleasure in injuring others?

Ashley Roethlisberger has chosen to look at the man who has caused her husband and his team so much grief with the eyes of compassion.

There will no doubt be those who consider that her words stem from self-righteousness or a sort of insipid piety. And of course no one but Ashley Roethlisberger really knows what was going on in her heart and head when she sent this message with Ben.

Cynics will say talk is cheap. But in fact talk isn’t cheap. It is one of the hardest things in the world to respond to the sort of callous disregard for the health and welfare of others so frequently demonstrated by Vontaze Burfict with anything but invective or at least distaste. If she wanted to send a message with her husband, there are any number of things she could have said to him. “Please consider that you may be maiming a fellow player.” “Please stop hurting my husband.” Or the “please” could have been left off and she could have really cut loose. Instead she focused not on his wrongdoing but him as a human being.

It takes, in fact, a miracle to respond in this way. And who knows what fruit it may bear? Of course, the result may be exactly nothing, although the fact that Burfict didn’t have a response is something in and of itself. But perhaps it will plant, if nothing else, a tiny seed of human kindness in what appears to be the parched desert of Mr. Burfict’s heart.

There was another young woman, 2000 years ago or so, who opened the door for the first Christmas miracle as she allowed God to work through her. Her words are perhaps more famous than Ashley Roethlisberger’s, and more eloquent. But she expressed the same willingness to sublimate her own natural instincts and respond with love:

  • My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…
  • And his mercy is on those who fear him, throughout all generations.

May God’s peace and grace shine in all of our hearts.

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