We covered my thoughts on Patriots longtime left tackle Matt Light yesterday, reflecting on his career following his retirement announcement. I knew Light for three years, talking to him in the locker room after practices and games, seeing him at charity events, and wherever else. We knew each other, I’d say, fairly well.
But last night, we all received a reminder of something absolutely essential. It’s an important lesson for reporters, fans, coaches, and really anyone who comes across those who live in the spotlight. We think we know. We really don’t know.
In a fantastic article by Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, Light details his decade-long battle with Crohn’s disease.
It’s a nasty ailment, one that Light lived with while playing at an extremely high level and one that he kept intensely private until last night. He talked about a near-death experience in 2004 that kept him from showing up to 2004 training camp until Aug. 15. He pointed out how hard it was to keep on weight and how retirement will allow him to focus on managing the illness.
All of this, without anyone knowing. So, how well did I know him? How qualified was I to answer the question, What is Matt Light really like? Not as qualified as I thought. It’s a truth that gets hammered home all too often, though each reminder is necessary.
Just because we see people for 45 minutes a day, doesn’t mean we know them. Doesn’t mean we understand what is going on with their lives, their families, their inner circles, their worlds. We know how they present themselves publicly (and some athletes are too good at only showing this) and we tell that story. Sometimes, hopefully, we can learn a little more about their lives and inform you guys. Sometimes, thanks to inside access, we can paint a fuller picture. But not always.
It’s just so valuable to understand this dynamic when it comes time to criticize. It’s so valuable to understand if we were to point fingers. Light’s toughness was never questioned, and after this article and considering what he played through, it should never have been. But other players are.
Other players are questioned for on-field deficiencies, and that’s fine. It’s the way it should be. It’s part of our job and part of a fan’s right. But it all should be done with the understanding that we don’t know everything. Like a few years ago when Patriots RB Laurence Maroney was roundly ripped for running out of bounds… only to find out later, he was playing through a broken shoulder.
That’s just one example. In Cowboys land, CB Mike Jenkins’ tackling ability isn’t exactly lauded… But last year, he was playing through a shoulder that kept separating. He couldn’t lift his arm above his head. Yet he was out there going to work. Tom Brady believes if you are on the field, there are no excuses. OK. But there are extenuating circumstances. Sometimes an injury. Sometimes life intervenes. These aren’t excuses. These are realities.
With public figures, we only know part of the story. I first came to the realization when Kobe Bryant hit the news in 2004. That was the my enlightening moment where I went, ‘Wait, maybe seeing him on commercials and on the court doesn’t tell the whole story.’ It was the same last week when even Junior Seau’s friends didn’t understand what he may have been going through. It is the same with Light.
We think we know people. But so often, we really don’t know. Just something to consider — some perspective — when offering up a judgment on the athletes we cover or the athletes you root for.