Bill Curry spent 50 years as both player and coach, each year going through the process of forming a team all over again. Curry’s experience as a coach taught him the incredible power of the game of football to teach young people lessons that will last them a lifetime.
Curry says coaches have a responsibility to wield their influence to teach young people positive life lessons.
“That child remembers every word you say,” says Curry. “When you implant positive self-image, and when you implant love for all people regardless of what they look like or what the color of their skin is, or what their religion is – when you do that, it doesn’t go away,” he explains.
Football unifies players regardless of where they are from or what their unique experiences in life have been. Many players treasure the sport because it provides them an opportunity to feel like they belong for the first time in their life. When players run out on the field and huddle up with their teammates, they see 10 other players who are counting on them to do their job. They realize the value they bring to the rest of the team. They find purpose in their shared struggle.
“The great thing about the football huddle particularly, is that it’s the only sport I’m aware of where every player needs every teammate on every play just to survive,” Curry says. “The United States of America is structured similarly, but we have forgotten that. Our country has forgotten that, but we’ll come back to it. There have been times where we have rallied and become a team before, and we are going to have to do it again.”
Curry recalls a time in American history when people stood united – in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He was working as an analyst for ESPN at the time, and still vividly remembers a conversation he had with a football fan while passing through the tiny town of Attalla, Ala.
The man recognized Curry and asked if the weekend’s games would be cancelled. After Curry told him the games were off, the man told him, “In Attalla, Alabama, come Friday night, we’re going to play football. Because it means a lot to us.”
The interaction with this passionate fan left Curry searching for answers.
“Why did it matter in Attalla, Alabama, that we play this often foolish game, with 11 guys on each side running into each other?” Curry wondered.
He soon came to realize there were towns all over the country just like Attalla counting on this “often foolish” game. They needed the game to help them come together, sit together, cheer together, curse together – they needed the sense of community and hope football provided them once a week.
“People cheer and hug each other. People who wouldn’t even speak to each other on the street are crying and hugging when they win a big game because their kids did it together,” Curry says.
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It is difficult to remember a time in recent history when Americans have been more polarized on the political and social issues of the day. Curry’s message of unity and the important role football can play is needed now more than ever.
“We must continue,” he says. “We must make it safer for the players. We must set the example for this country in the locker room and on the field and in the huddle, because nobody else is doing it.”
This article was written by Adam Reed, Associate Editor of AFCA Magazine and AFCA Insider.