Wednesday, March 25, 2009

will heath, newspaper columnist

As this week's edition of is now up without my Lifestyles column, I'm posting it here as a form of self-aggrandizement. So ... deal. I apologize in advance if you think it stinks — this is, after all, my blog.

Coming up with your own identity tough

One of the more interesting characters in recent sports history is Doug Williams.

Williams is a rather obscure figure now, but in January 1989 he was anything but. The quarterback of the Washington Redskins headed into the Super Bowl, Williams also had the distinction of being the first black man to ever lead a professional football team to the sport’s biggest stage.

With typical reserve, however, he downplayed that role in the week leading up to the game.

“I didn’t come here to be the first black quarterback to do anything,” he said. “I came here to win the Super Bowl.”

It worked out nicely for Williams – he outplayed the great John Elway, leading an offense that scored 35 second-quarter points and walked away with a surprisingly easy 42-17 win over the Denver Broncos.

Forevermore, Williams is recognized as the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. It’s his identity.

We all have an identity, for better or worse. At age 14, I moved with my family to Opelika, a town completely unfamiliar to me, except for the presence of a few cousins who already lived there.

“Wait … aren’t you Maggie’s cousin?” people would ask. And the answer was yeah … yeah I am.

Over the years, I’ve moved in and out of a number of different identities: that geek who keeps referring to himself as “Maggie’s cousin,” the scout-team tackling dummy, the first-team tackling dummy, the guy who won’t shut up about his hometown, that guy who nearly got us kicked out at the football game that one time, Stacey’s boyfriend, Stacey’s husband and, of course, the newspaper guy.

Being identified as “the newspaper guy” is a rather strange designation – people expect you to walk around wearing a fedora, carrying a notepad and frantically attempting to scribble down everything they say.

(Actually, they’re kind of right.)

That’s not the only distinction that affects one’s life. As a college student, I roomed for two years with three other guys in a dormitory suite. All three of those guys — all of whom I consider as close as family – are now practicing United Methodist ministers.

It’s strange, frankly, to visit a friend of yours who’s now regarded by people as a “holy man.” They call him “preacher” and defer to his expertise on all matters of the spirit. Quite simply, his job is part of his identity.

An age-old problem, identity. Supposedly, Jim Hellwig, better known as The Ultimate Warrior in the late 1980s, was unable to separate his wrestling identity from his true self – he changed his name to Warrior in the mid-90s for reasons no one could entirely fathom.

That’s the tricky part about it: knowing who you are inside. If you don’t, it won’t matter what anyone else thinks of you.

1 comment:

Peggy Rossmanith said...

You're also "Whit and Jack's older brother." :)

I think equally as hard as finding our identities is not becoming caricatures of ourselves once we figure it out. Darn that eternal search for meaning...