By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Some students of mine are putting together a project this week in which they act out some scenes from August Wilson’s play, Fences. Part of their grade lies in an explanation for the choices they make in how they go about “becoming” the characters.READ MORE: Parents Of Michigan School Shooter Arrested After Manhunt
For example, do they choose to portray Troy Maxson, the flawed, bitter former athlete, as the cold, cruel James Earl Jones type? Or is Troy for them more of an edgy-but-lovable sitcom father portrayal by Denzel Washington? The thing about the choice each student makes, though, is that their interpretation of a character can’t really mix both. They can’t have it both ways.
The students are all high school seniors and have acquired stock in responsibility and leadership. They proposed this performance project to their crusty teacher who was all set on assigning another literary analysis essay otherwise. They’ve earned my respect enough that, while I fear disaster, I appreciate the risks they are willing to take, and I trust the freedom I give them will be well used. It’s assumed they will not choose to spend the time granted them to fool around or to embarrass me and betray my trust.
Which brings me to Lance Briggs. His time with the Chicago Bears is dwindling, and he knows that he’s about to “graduate” to free agency or maybe retirement.
“I understand this is probably my last year as a Chicago Bear, and this could be the last time I play the Packers,” Briggs said Wednesday when asked to ponder this coming Sunday’s game against Green Bay.
Pro athletes often do their best to avoid talk of employment or wax mortal regarding their careers, so it’s refreshing to hear Briggs’ honesty — even if we can’t help but recognize the sadness of it as we do seeing the self-awareness of the end of all careers. The end of the time in Chicago for one of the Bears’ greatest linebackers in franchise history is mostly logistics. Briggs is old, his skills have diminished, his body is succumbing to the ravages of so many NFL years and his resume demands that he doesn’t come cheap.
“I don’t know what to do with myself sometimes,” Briggs said regarding the time he’s spent injured this season, but now seemingly more so about his existence with this Bears team. “Sometimes I sit in the meetings while coaches are talking, and sometimes the words just phase out and I’m just staring at the screen. The only thing I can tell is the time. I can see the time and it’s like, ‘Damn, I still got 55 minutes left.’ It’s just been different, man, just different. More coaching.”
Briggs never spoke with this sort of candor when he played under former Bears coach Lovie Smith. He’s always been good for a sound bite and has hid any distain for the media as best he could, but he’s never been the guy to express how he’s tuning out, wrapping it up. He’s never been one to bus-toss coaches like that.READ MORE: 2 Killed, 6 Wounded In Weekend Shootings In Chicago
Lance Briggs doesn’t get to have it both ways. See, back in the preseason, coach Marc Trestman, citing Briggs’ accumulation of stock in respect and leadership, trusted Briggs enough to allow him to miss practice to open up a BBQ restaurant in California. Critics worried, feared disaster. Some went to bat for both the coach and senior player, believing such freedom is necessary and certainly not counterproductive.
It’s within a veteran player’s right to be able to lean on his years bought and paid for and express his resignation with the current state of affairs. But he doesn’t get to take advantage of senior privileges and permission of his head coach one day and then insinuate how little respect he has for that coach and publicly undermine him the next.
He can’t rely on the hand that feeds him to sweep under the rug most of his abandoning the crash of a $350,000 car at 3 a.m. and then bite that hand in front of a mic.
”It’s the last year of my deal,” he said. ”It’s not like I’m going to magically show up after this year and they’re going to open the gates up for you. I’ve talked to my buddy (former Bear) Alex Brown — those gates are closing — you’re a free agent.”
This wouldn’t be the first time Briggs has used the media to criticize the way the Bears handle business with players. Remember in 2007 when he said during a contract dispute, “I will do everything that’s within my power to not be with this organization?”
Lance Briggs has earned a lot in his time playing football, but somebody has to give those accolades, those privileges, that respect. And then there’s a certain reciprocation that goes with it. Thank the Academy for your Oscar. Work hard and don’t fool around on your Fences project. Don’t crap all over your coaches and those who sign your checks.
I’m particularly interested to see a student portray Rose, Troy Maxson’s wife. There is a powerful scene in which Troy has betrayed her love and trust, and in an overflow of emotion she cries, “You always talking about what you give … and what you don’t have to give. But you take too. You take … and don’t even know nobody’s giving!”
Lance Briggs has been given much by the Chicago Bears, tangible and intangible. This week he chose to betray it.MORE NEWS: Evanston Police Host Gun Buyback Event
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.