By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Friends, Chicagoans, people who claim to be Chicagoans but who choose to live twenty safe miles outside the city, lend me your ears. Or just your eyes if you don’t read my work aloud (you should, by the way, and preferably in a different accent each time).
I come to bury Johnny Knox, not to praise him.
There is little, in fact, to praise about Knox. What was he? A drone much like any other, facemasked and faceless as we belched and screamed. I use what instead of who because the athletes we root for—football players in particular—are things, not people. We don’t want them to be human. It ruins the fantasy world we enter into as fans.
Knox was as drone as drone could be. Nothing special in the grand scheme of things. But wait—Knox just so happened to humanize himself in the hearts of Bears fans. He became a who and not a what. And how? By not seeming typical. He wasn’t big, and he was quick. He made up for his lack of superior talent by trying really hard. He was by all respectable accounts a nice guy. He was a Ginger.
And as Chicago fans are wont to do when a fifth-round pick overachieves, he was revered by many as something he really wasn’t—special. He was Bears Mark DeRosa. A Johnny Knox doesn’t make or break a potential championship team. But he was a combination of pretty good and kitschy. Folk heroes here are not made of sterner stuff.
Then one hit ended his Bears tenure. Knox’s back was broken. Fans then got their who’s and what’s blurred and wondered when this guy would revert back to gladiator and return from a hit that might have paralyzed most men.
What Johnny Knox is is a sad reminder of what football is—brutality. On the field, as a car crash that sometimes leaves a player’s body pretzeled and almost irreparable. An opponent cheering its hit in impulsive celebration before realizing another what is spread on the turf in absolute agony. The harsh reality of the average career length of an NFL player—what he did about hit the bulls-eye.
Brutality off the field, as ties are severed like those between the Bears and Knox were on Tuesday 14 months after his gruesome injury. Decommissioned, soon replaced by another quick receiver under a facemask. The show goes on. News of Knox’s demise was a front page headline on NFL.com 24 hours ago. Today you have to search for it. So it goes.
And there is the brutality of bitterness by players toward their employers during contract holdouts because the respective definitions of who and what don’t jibe. Acid from fans who see the what off the field only as privilege and ungratefulness and greed—certainly not trying to insure a future on the chance a 280-pound mass of speeding indifference will bend one’s spine.
What he was was a fan favorite (often code for overachiever). But fans’ hearts are fickle, and favorites are easily supplanted. Such will be the legend of Johnny Knox, soon overshadowed by another try-hard clone. Maybe he’ll get to be as fortunate post-career as his great-grandfather, Tom Waddle. Maybe not.
Who Johnny Knox is is a man who at the age of 26 has to accept that his life’s work is likely finished, and the final product is not what any of us would wish.
And at so young an age, Knox is staring the reality of life outside the arena, the reality of who he now is, which is no longer the faceless drone working for anonymous applause that he experienced so briefly. The humanity in us feels for such a situation, to look to praise the man, the who. Our love of the what, though, causes us to soon bury all that.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.