Last Saturday was, without any hesitation, the worst loss I have ever experienced as a sports fan. It was a nightmare that I was praying I would wake up from. I’m not proud to say this but yes, I cried. And these were not manly tears. A single tear didn’t run down my face, I actually wept. I wept like a twelve year old girl watching “Titanic” for the first time. It was the only time where I’ve questioned whether or not my sports have made my life better. I wish I could say the dust has settled, but it hasn’t. On Sunday, I had difficulty watching the NFL. Just seeing a football reminded me of how Saturday’s game ended. I felt as though a crime had been committed. And like any crime, all I wanted was to find the person responsible. This brings us to Blake O’Neill, Michigan’s Australian punter and currently the most hated man in Ann Arbor. Now before I go any further I just want to say that no player in any sport should ever receive death threats for their performance in a game. While I believe that the term “it’s just a game” is a cop out, sports are not life or death. With that said, I understand the Wolverines current hatred for Blake O’Neill the same way that I understand Boston’s hate for Bill Buckner or Chicago’s hate for Steve Bartman. As a matter of fact, this makes more sense. So where does he go from here? As someone who considers myself somewhat affluent when it comes to human emotion, my best (unqualified) advice to Blake O’Neill would be this…come forward, speak. I am sure that no one feels worse about last Saturday’s game than Blake O’Neill does. I’m sure these last 48 plus hours have been maybe the worst that he’s ever had to go through. But right now, hiding is not the answer.
This probably isn’t a shock to any of you but I’m not really an athlete. I was a tennis player in high school and a fairly good one, but the thing I was always proud of was how I composed myself and how I presented myself to my team, especially as I got older. I’m someone who puts a lot of pressure on themselves and when I lost, I didn’t pout, I didn’t cry, I never stopped cheering for my teammates who were still playing. I’d apologize to my team, my coaches, my parents. They almost unanimously agreed that there was no reason for such an apology. What this ultimately led to was respect from those around me. When your teammates know that you care that much, you earn respect. I would guess that Blake O’Neill is probably afraid to go public. He probably doesn’t want to have cameras shoved in his face and that’s understandable. Releasing a written statement might be the way for him to go. Any rational person knows that no one feels worse that Blake does, which is why he should show it.
There’s two types of sorry. There’s sorry for what you did and there’s sorry you got caught. The former is much more forgivable. To this day, I have zero belief that Tiger Woods regrets his decision to cheat on his wife. If he could do it again, I bet he’d do the same thing. I don’t mean to pile it on but the reason Michigan lost on Saturday was essentially Blake O’Neill’s fault. He literally dropped the ball. He had one job to do, and he didn’t do it. That deserves an apology. It was an accident, and accidents can be forgiven with the right “I’m sorry.” He was caught up in the moment, and with one hundred and eleven thousand fans looking down at him, he lost it. Making a mistake in a moment like that is unacceptable, but it is understandable. The idea of putting yourself out there in front of that many people takes a lot of courage, and sometimes we forget that.
We sometimes misremember what it must be like to be in the public eye. Having had the pleasure of working for “The Drive” last summer I was able to meet some journalists and radio personalities that are prominent in this state. It’s almost comical seeing what people will say to them on Twitter. It’s amazing the unawareness of some people who believe that those in the public eye are like robots who live and breathe sports and have no feelings or life outside of their job. Joe Rexrode is a family man, Graham Couch plays in a recreational softball league. Those in the public eye, whether it be journalists, actors, or athletes like Blake O’Neill, are open to criticism. I wouldn’t consider myself a public figure by any means, but I too am open to criticism. And I’ve been criticized on Twitter and even in person, criticized for my opinions, even criticized for my over abundant knowledge of sports. And yes, I take it to heart.
This article has changed since I first started writing it. Originally, this was almost an angry piece, demanding that Blake O’Neill apologize for the injustice that he committed on Saturday. But my opinion has slightly changed. As someone who is roughly O’Neill’s age, someone who is sensitive and takes criticism to heart, I can’t imagine what this kid is going through. When I started this piece, I wasn’t sure I could even watch another snap of Michigan football this season. In a way, this has been therapeutic. As painful as Saturday was for me, life continues to go on. For Blake O’Neill, time is frozen. He is stuck in a void he probably doesn’t feel like he can get out of. He’s got a ways to go if he wants to escape the shadow of what happened last Saturday, and he may never be able to. But the first step would be to come forward. As painful as it may be, don’t bury your head in the sand. Come forward so that the next time this happens to someone, the aftermath won’t be nearly as painful. Come forward and let the world know that there is a person under the helmet and pads. Speak, apologize if you believe it’s right. Say how you feel. Emotions are NOT for the weak, just ask Jim Harbaugh.
Feel free to keep the conversation going on my Twitter account