Heart of the Game

Heart of the Game
June 30
09:25 2016

Wali Pitt

Chronicle Columnist

Often times when we think about football, our minds immediately invoke images of cool fall weather for tailgating, huge swarms of screaming fans cheering under the bright lights, and our favorite team logos carefully stitched onto colorful mesh jerseys.

The United States’ passion for football has exploded over the past 30 years and now many American football fans patiently wait out the summer in anticipation of the season’s first kick-off.

Even in the sweltering heat of late June, on a middle school football field in rural Statesville, North Carolina, the collective passion for football was on full display during a semi-pro game between the Statesville Warriors and The Carolina Jaguars.

Devoid of all the typical pomp and circumstance of college and pro football, you can see the pureness of the love for the game that many of us share, physically manifested through the intensity of players on the field.

While this was a semi-pro football contest, there was nothing semi-serious about it. Dozens of former high-school and collegiate standouts, as well as current and former high school and college coaches poured their hearts out during the hour-plus contest.

The Statesville Warriors, reigning champions of the league, came out scoring early touchdowns on offense side forcing turnovers on the defensive side end of the ball, frustrating the Jaguars from Winston-Salem. After a couple scores by the home team, the Jags began to come undone and turn their frustrations inward at them-selves. Teammates began to vocally challenge one another leading to a brief spat over some substitution confusion on one particular defensive package.

To the casual onlooker this may have seemed a bit excessive for a semi-pro football game, played in early summer, at a middle school field.

But to me it served as reminder of the importance of the game of football to African-American males.

When you grow up with football success meaning a possible improvement of you and your family’s quality of life, the game itself becomes a fight. Not just against the opponent on the field but against the tides of oppression that can keep African-Americans in disadvantaged situations.

What starts out as fun and games in Pop Warner quickly turns into serious business, with a chance to get a free college education or in the rare circumstances, the opportunity to accrue generational wealth by playing in the NFL.

Most athletes land somewhere in the middle, reliving their own personal glory days through exaggerated stories or by playing in annual Thanksgiving day pick-up games.

Shawn Moore, a 29-year-old Winston-Salem native and father of two, has embodied this fighting spirit since he was a teenager and he continues to live out his dream at the snap of every play.

As a star high school running back at Glenn High in Winston-Salem, Shawn once rushed for 313 yards and six touch-downs in his first ever playoff game as a sophomore. Shawn then “took his talents to East Winston” where he went on to Star at Carver High School and parlayed his skills into a full scholarship to play at the collegiate level.

For Shawn, his love of the game wouldn’t allow his playing career to become an antidote in a story about his glory days.

“I’m 29, I got two kids and I come out here just because I love the game. I’m not getting paid right now, I gotta go to work on Monday morning, I’m just doing this for the love of the game and to develop some film from this and hopefully get paid for my talents.”

I first met Shawn during his junior year at Carver High, his first year at the school. I can remember the hype behind the highly rated D-1 running back prospect changing schools to bolster a Yellow Jacket team that had just won the Class 3A State Championship the previous year.

We at Carver Nation automatically assumed that the addition of Shawn Moore would equal back-to-back state titles. This was not the case, as expectations did not meet reality. This is a common theme in the Black American Football experience, as many athletes are burdened by expectations that WE as fans saddle them with, and when the reality that comes to fruition doesn’t match these lofty expectations, we often see a downward spiral back into the same negativity that the game of football had once helped shield them from.

For Shawn, receiving his full ride to play at North Carolina A&T was only the first chapter in a college career that would span almost 10 years.

“I had a full ride at A&T. I went down there with two high school teammates and I actually just kinda fell off. First semester [I was] just chasing girls and ended up getting put on academic probation, After that I just left school and started working.”

For most of our athletes, this is where the glory days end and the infinite string of regrets begin. We are trained to think that there is only one path to football greatness and once diverged from that path, that there are no other options available, aside from hanging up the cleats.

This is where the wisdom and leadership of those who have come before is paramount. Positive reinforcement from older and respected former athletes and coaches can take the defeated mentality of a late teen, early 20s athlete and reinvigorate their mindset into not only a focused “never say die” athlete, but also into a dedicated and driven adult, using the same skills that helped them on the field of play, in the game of life. A conversation with one of his former coaches at Carver High School seemingly had this same impact on Shawn at a low point in his career.

“Coach McKoy came and paid me a visit, and I’m so thankful for this. He asked me if I still wanted to play and I said yeah, He got me on at Shaw U and the rest is history, [I] played at Shaw, graduated with honors, went on to state [Winston Salem State University] having one year of eligibility left, graduating with honors again and [I’m] still just chasing the dream.”

Stay tuned to The Chronicle through-out the summer for coverage and high-lights of the Carolina Jaguars and continued updates on Shawn Moore’s inspiring journey to professional football.

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Wali Pitt

Wali Pitt

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