Football is not life or death. Coaches can fall victim to treating it as such. Their players suffer when that happens.
New Tennessee Titans coach Brian Callahan quoted Jurgen Klopp last week, which means Titans fans now know that Jurgen Klopp is a famous soccer manager and not the name of a Bond villain.
More importantly, they know that Klopp is as big a thinker as he is a winner. It’s why Callahan referenced the line “When you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special.”
Friday morning the world woke up to news that Klopp had decided to leave Liverpool, the first-place team in the second-to-none English Premier League, at the end of this season. That bulletin rippled across social media channels. The one belonging to The Players Tribune shared a passage from Klopp’s 2019 TPT essay.
“Sometimes people ask me why I am always smiling. Even after we lose a match, sometimes I’m still smiling. It’s because when my son was born, I realised that football is not life or death. We’re not saving lives.
“Football is not something that should spread misery and hatred. Football should be about inspiration and joy, especially for children.”
Klopp was talking about his football, but he might as well have been talking about ours. It is a beautiful sentiment. I hope Callahan borrows that one when the Titans start playing again next fall.
I hope Brent Venables and Mike Gundy borrow it around here. That goes for Loren Montgomery at Bixby and the lay coaches on other high schools staffs and the volunteers who coach flag football teams at nearby parks.
Football is not life or death.
Coaches can fall victim to treating it as such. Their players suffer when that happens. They are berated at practice. They are processed through academic tracks. They are excused to keep playing when their substandard personal behavior requires role modeling and consequences.
Fans can fall victim to treating football as life or death. Players suffer here, too, because they are berated on social media. They become online punching bags and punchlines over lost bets and lost perspectives.
Football is not something that should spread misery and hatred.
Nothing should spread misery and hatred. But since we forgot to tell that to the goons who have compromised Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, here we are.
Sports saturate the social media market. Thus the danger lurking anytime a lineman misses his block or a kicker misses his field goal, never mind the quarterback who misses his throw or the receiver who drops his pass.
This is an avalanche Gundy and Venables aren’t empowered to stop. But wouldn’t it be great if they borrowed Klopp’s sentiment to at least slow the roll? Sure couldn’t hurt.
It couldn’t hurt to reinforce Klopp’s most flowery message.
Football should be about inspiration and joy, especially for children.
I think the children, the players in Venables’ and Gundy’s cases, still understand that. Media millions, name, image and likeness thousands and the transfer portal have changed the way these kids go about their business, but not the way they play ball.
Dillon Gabriel’s social media bio includes an email address for “business inquiries,” but he also says, as he did during OU’s 2023 season: “I play the game because I love it. It’s something I’m passionate about.”
Coaches and fans should refresh that quote, and Klopp’s, now and then. So should sportswriters.
The next time I’m stressed out over a column because I can’t find the right words, time or energy, and I’ve been in a press box for eight hours and now I’m about the last one up there, I need to take a breath and remember how lucky I am to be up there in the first place.
I’m going to file the column. Some folks are going to read it and maybe think about something they hadn’t. Maybe some will even enjoy it. Either way, I get to look forward to the next game.
I get to go home to Christy and I’ll be on the phone soon with Gretchen and Holden and we’ll all continue to share our lives.
“I think 98% of football is about dealing with failure,” Klopp wrote in The Players’ Tribune, “and still being able to smile and find joy in the game the next day.”
That can be said for American football as well, the coaches, players, fans and even media around it. You don’t have to identify with world football to have it sink in.
Liverpool can mean The Beatles to you. Jurgen Klopp can mean trouble for 007.
Just so long as you listen to Callahan or any other football coach the next time he quotes a soccer manager with more on his mind than the result of a game.