Sports mean so much to so many people. Sports mean quite a bit to you, probably, if you are reading this. Sometimes, sports can change lives. Professional sports teams are frequently featured in Make A Wish programs. Why has Russell Wilson become the most beloved athlete in Washington so quickly since he has drafted by the Seahawks? Yes, he and the team have been successful, that is step one. Beyond the field is where he has made the biggest mark. Every Tuesday he visits Seattle Children's Hospital. He changes the lives of every kid he takes the time with. Look at his Instagram: football, Children's Hospital, music. He changes lives.
Sports have changed my life. Recently, UW basketball changed my life:
There was a time early this season, when I honestly just didn't care. The Washington Huskies basketball team was a team that I watched and wrote about. I didn't even really want to do that. It was an obligation. Just the season before, it was my favorite thing in the world to do: sit down in front of the TV with my blue composition book and a pen, take notes and write about the team, whether they were playing well or if the NIT wasn't even a possibility.
The 2013-14 season started, and things were different. I no longer was excited to see the Huskies play. My favorite player, C.J. Wilcox, remained fun to watch. My two other favorites? Desmond Simmons: out due to knee surgery. Jernard Jarreau: well, crap. That's where it began to go downhill.
As I have mentioned before, I tore my ACL* in late October playing football. It was a long process to find out what was wrong with my knee, and took two-and-a-half weeks before I had an answer. Leading up to the MRI results, my doctor had been led to believe that the worst that could have happened to my knee was a partially torn ACL. That carries with it a recovery period of 3-6 months before the injured person can return to full activity. It was more likely to be an ACL spain: four to six weeks and I would be back to normal (this was two weeks after the injury, so it was to to four weeks).
*The story of how it happened: Before the game, a teammate told us all, Nobody pull a Sidney Rice, who tore his ACL three days prior. I was rushing the quarterback on a delayed blitz. I recorded a sack in the previous game using this method, and we needed a stop on fourth down badly. After passing a man off from my zone, I pinned my ears back and honed in on my prey like a cheetah to a gazelle. As I closed in, I started chopping my feet as he was preparing to run. When he started to scramble to his left, my right , I planted my left foot in the ground and pushed off, ready to pounce -- he was done.
My knee buckled to the inside, bending towards my right leg. Pop Pop Pop Pop! All within a microsecond. Those sounds will forever be embedded in my mind. Instant shock. No pain. I screamed regardless. Pure fear. My body writhed on the ground, in disbelief. My mind was somewhere else completely, though I could not tell you where. The quarterback scrambled and I was told scored a touchdown. I didn't know. I didn't care. I pulled a Sidney Rice
This is where I shout out my friend Andrew Downing, who is currently mulling his graduate school choices for Sports Medicine. Via a five-minute phone call he diagnosed the injury with the complication (torn medial meniscus, though I was lucky and it healed itself before surgery).
The next morning, Nov. 8, I received a phone call from my doctor and was given the news I was excited to not hear: An MRI showed my ACL had ruptured (complete tear) and surgery was to be required if I ever was going to play any sports other than tennis again. Nov. 10, two days later, I sat watching TV, waiting for the station to switch to the Huskies game, ready for the season to start.
The first thing that I, or any fan watching from home that evening, saw this season was Jarreau crumpled to the floor surrounded by trainers. The media, myself included, had been hyping how much potential the guy had - still has. He was supposed to be a big part of the offense this season. Obviously, that didn't happen.
I saw the replay and nearly threw up. I would have run to the bathroom if I was physically capable of running. I knew right off the bat what happened and that he tore his ACL (I am shaking as I type this.) Go read the recap I did, or at least the second Dot of the recap. Literally the first thing I saw for the entire season wass the very same injury that will keep me from sports up to/over a year.
Instantly, basketball was the last thing I wanted to see - much less write about. The team continued to put together an uninspiring non-conference season, and it deepened my apathy.
Basketball defined who I was. I met my closest friends through high school basketball, before I was even half-decent, let alone actually good. When I was with my friends, we did one of two things: play basketball in my driveway or at any gym we could find, and play Xbox, usually NBA 2K. That had turned to apathy. Apathy for basketball, apathy for had previously been my identity.
One of my closest friends tweeted at me when I started working on this.
@BenKnibbeSBN I haven't played ball in months, since you got hurt— B-Riley (@OlsonBriley) January 12, 2014
@BenKnibbeSBN no one to play with lol— B-Riley (@OlsonBriley) January 12, 2014
Basketball is what we did together. With one of us down, we don't play. Only one of our group of four still plays periodically, with friends from his work. "It isn't the same," he said to me.
I was a bit of a no-show here at the Dawg Pound over a big chunk of my winter break, as I had surgery Dec. 12 and was mentally not ready to be writing for a while. When I was still on Percocet, I attempted to watch a game. Fifteen minutes later I realized "that new guy" was actually Mike Anderson with a haircut. A big thanks to the guys who covered the team in my stead. I still was mentally out of it for a while even after I was off of the drugs. The team was still mediocre, which may or may not have had an effect.
When you are stuck inside of one room for three weeks, confined to a couch for most of it - though I was finally able to do some going out after about a week, however painful - frustration mounted. Many of you probably understand and have gone through this or something similar. I kept seeing the muscle on my leg going away. I couldn't get around the house. Stairs? No way.
I promise, there is a point to this.
Three or four days post-surgery, My mom called and asked if I could find something in the kitchen for her, a list. I had made this trip quite a few times before, so it wasn't a big deal. I crutched to the kitchen, completed my task, and was on my way back. I was almost back to the couch when I fell flat on my butt. That was it. Life feels like it doesn't get much worse when you can't get to the kitchen and back without hitting the ground. I still knew it could have, and did get, much worse.
That depression spiraled. For me, that was dangerous. I have struggled with depression throughout my life. Not the "woe is me, I just got dumped" kind of depression, but medically-diagnosed-with-years-of-treatment depression. If this continued, a lot of things could go wrong for me.
I was reluctant to return to writing, but I told myself that I needed to do it.
Fast forward to UW at Arizona State. I was not apathetic watching a basketball game through a crappy internet stream that put a program on my computer that just won't go away no matter what is done to it. I was sad the game ended. Washington played well. They beat a team in a game where they were significant underDawgs. I didn't dislike it consuming my time.
Next, Arizona. I watched the game with a friend, and we both said something was different about the team. Yes, something was different about the team: they had started to play better defensively. They nearly upset the best team in the country despite not even being at their best. What else was different? I was having fun. I was really enjoying watching the game. I would audibly yell with big plays. I smiled.
That change was big, really big. After the injury, the quality of my schoolwork went downhill. When someone's identity is ripped away from them, life changes. When I was supposed to work on homework, I was researching ACL tears: surgical options, recovery timetables, risk factors, personal testimonies, rehab exercises and more recovery timetables. Also, if you get a serious injury like this (pray that you don't), don't Google your questions. Write them down and ask your surgeon and physical therapist. There is a lot of bad information out there.
Now I am back at college. I don't have many friends, I'm the awkward type but it doesn't really matter to me, I am used to it. I guess I am your "average blogger," aside from living in mom and dad's basement. Friday night? Work the SB Nation newsdesk, watch a movie and go to sleep. Saturday night? Netflix. Remember when I said my schoolwork suffered? When I was supposed to do homework I would research ACL stuff. Once I realized that was bad, my motivation was gone to do homework and I just moped around my dorm. I don't drink or smoke, so my social options are limited in the party center of the university. Sunday is NFL day, I couldn't be sad on NFL day.
With no classes on Monday, what did I do? I lifted weights (only upper body, still with a lot of lifts out of the picture, obviously) at 6 a.m. with a suitemate, as is our custom. We finished our workout a little bit before eight, and he headed to class. I then sat down in the lobby and started writing this, with physical therapy starting at 9:30 and no intentions to publish.
After therapy, I went on the court and shot hoops. When you think of shoot hoops, you probablyt think of going around the court, shooting threes, taking a bunch of jumpers and layups. Nope. Stand three feet from the cup and form shoot. Don't get more than five feet from the rim. Knees can hardly be bent. Don't jump. Don't run. DO NOT PIVOT AT ALL -- that is the most difficult part of all, yet it is the most important. Three-hundred "shots" later, I left.
I left, yet I didn't feel sad. Before surgery, when I shot. I could barely be in the gym for 15 minutes without punching one of the padded walls. Something was different. Just being on the court was exhilarating. Hearing balls bouncing all around me interposed with tickling of the twine and the clang of rims was a sweet melody. Hearing the net swish from five feet is a heck of a lot less satisfying -- and quieter -- than my all-time favorite sound of nylon tearing as leather passes through after being launched from over 20 feet away. Maybe that's why my all-time favorite basketball player is Ray Allen and my favorite Husky is Wilcox.
That's when I realized how much had changed.
Had basketball not turned me around? I would have sat in the gym watching Family Guy on Netflix until my rehab, come back to my dorm room and done nothing productive until the evening when I was forced to work on homework due the next morning. I also would not have finished either the two projects that due Thursday in my classes with any semblance of quality.
Basketball used to be a detractor from schoolwork. I would spend time on the court instead of in the library. Now, basketball is the only reason I can bring myself to do homework. Basketball is the biggest reason I can bring myself to do much of anything. This Washington team is the biggest reason I can bring myself to do much of anything.
Sports can mean a lot to people. There is a reason that team-licensed garb is so prevelant. There is a reason that these vehicles (yes, the site, I know) exist. Sports are recreation; sports are games. They started as games, and that is what they will continue to be in the eyes of many. To a many fans, sports are an obsession. A fan will eat, sleep and breathe their team. Chris Landon had to be banned 20 times (guesstimating) from UW Dawg Pound because he just couldn't get enough Huskies - don't try it. To some, sports are life. To us, sports are life.
Sometimes sports can mean, quite literally, life.
Go here to follow Ben on Twitter. He talks about himself less on Twitter, and may be in love with Deontae Cooper.