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Opinion

Becoming


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jan. 20, 2023 - 2:47 PM

Becoming

The Newnan Times-Herald

Stetson Bennett, UGA’s champion football quarterback is a living Cinderella story.

With impossible persistence and perseverance he faced brick walls and doubters from the get-go in his college football career.

Early on, as a walk-on with no scholarship, Bennett was going nowhere in UGA football, and left to attend junior college.

Then, returning to Georgia, he fought undaunted for the quarterback spot, eventually earning it. Bennett became a huge success story, but the trip to get there was hard. Surely it took an emotional toll.

Watching the UGA Championship parade in Athens on TV last Saturday, I noticed Bennett seemed weirdly detached and just weirdly weird. Did I mention weird? This topic has been the source of curiosity and discussion this last week.

Maybe he was tired and over it on parade day. Maybe being the hometown hero made him supremely uncomfortable. But dang, he was so oddly and obviously distracted, uncelebratory, stone-faced; on the snarky side toward interviewers; a no-show at the post-game press conference; and in his brief speech, he pointedly shook a finger at “y’all doubters.” Many found his behavior unbecoming of a super-star football hero, especially at a victory parade.

I fantasized briefly about calling his momma and telling her to snatch a knot in her son’s tail and make him behave like the good Southern boy she raised.

But then I thought twice about that. I withheld judgment as he expressed sincere thanks to his team and coaches, that band of brothers who bonded and battled together on the gridiron; who leaned on, supported and trusted each other. Those “Jimmies and Joes” running the Xs and Os, were clearly the people he deeply cared about.

So should we chalk up Bennett’s weird parade demeanor to his status as an elite, talented athlete who feels fish-out-of-water uncomfortable in the spotlight and off of the gridiron? Or do we assume he is a rude, rebellious kid who doesn’t give a flying football about appearances? Or is it more complex than any of that? Moreover, maybe it’s just NYB: “None-Ya-Bidness.”

I’d like to throw a little presumptive, speculative grace on the matter.

Maybe parade day brought too many invisible, emotional plates for him to spin, all piled high with parade-and-PR expectations way more than he could handle, so he dropped the plates and let his bright, red sweatshirt do the talking: “Them Dawgs is Hell.”

Finally free to process years of pressures, pain, joys and exhilaration, maybe he could only manage to focus on his cell phone and teammate beside him while shutting down all the rest of the feels, man-style, as in “There’s no crying in football.” Right or wrong, pretty or not, maybe he was thinking “let’s play some tunes, man, and shut out the rest of this anxiety-producing dumpster fire.” He actually said as much in a response he wrote last week in the Athens paper, The Red and Black.

It would be understandable if Bennett became achingly conflicted and suddenly real that day, addressing his doubters with a truculent, in-yer-face, “How do ya like me now?” kind of real, coupled with a deep, abiding love for — and total commitment to — the game, teammates and coaches kind of real. And surely he must grieve his departure from the UGA mothership after working so hard to get there. It’s where he grew into a football champion and ultimately where he “belonged to be” as we say in the South.

At age 25, Bennett's still a kid who’s already become a great college quarterback against all odds. Maybe when – and if – he matures a little more, he will learn about who he can become as a man. Maybe he will learn that he can choose whether or not to spin all the plates, and still become thoughtful, kind and generous in that process.

Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If” is an aspirational checklist about “becoming.” We should all be so inclined to tackle it, regardless of gender.

Remarkably, Bennett has already checked off many of the boxes on Kipling’s list. It would be so satisfying to watch him continue to grow in wisdom and grace so he can check them all.

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too.

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run —

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling (public domain)

Longtime Newnan resident Susie Berta has many creative pursuits, including music, art, writing, cooking, gardening, entertaining and decorating. She is now pursuing her passion for writing and recently published her memoir, “The Veterinarian’s Wife.” She can be reached at susie.berta@gmail.com .