For Love or Touchdowns

JAD Truth loveFootball for me, as a younger person, was key in helping me believe I was loved. As long as I was scoring touchdowns, I thought people loved me.

My brother Rick was my mentor, both for life and, most certainly, for the game of football. He believed I was destined to follow in his footsteps and find a place on a Canadian Football League team.

All i really wanted was to be loved.

“We can promise to cover all your schooling costs if you choose to attend our University. We’d love to have you play with the X-Men here at St. Francis Xavier.” That promise was made in 1973 and confirmed a dream I had long held that it was possible to be awarded a football scholarship; something no Dolan had ever done.

Football brought me friends, adventure, commitment, dedication, devotion, risk, challenge, discipline, fantasy, notoriety, a sense of belonging, confidence, opportunity and love. It’s gifts, to me, were vast.

My bantam football year, 1972, was amazing. My brother Rick was the head coach and my other brother John helped out as an Assistant Coach. 

I was awarded “The Most Inspirational Player” for my team and received “Top Running Back” from the League. Again, it was the feeling of being loved by my big brothers and a host of other people that moved me the most. 

I left the Catholic high school most of my siblings attended and found myself at a Protestant school on the other side of Calgary. With no real connection to anyone, it was football that connected me to this new world.

“Aren’t you the catholic kid that played football with St. Francis? I’ve heard you’re an amazing player.” This was my first informal greeting I received shortly after arriving at my new school. I still remember, amidst the anxiety of those brand new surroundings, feeling loved because of football.

From high school I moved onto the next step, so I thought, in my growth of becoming a professional football player. This is when I began to feel afraid.

The laughter disappeared during practices. I’d hear coaches scream, “Rip their heads off!”, “Hurt them so they’ll remember who they played!”

It was language that was hard to hear; energy that was frightening. Most difficult for me was not being able to find anyone to share with that I was scared. 

Even though my brother was coaching this junior team as well, he too was suggesting that I was not being tough enough to the opposing players. I felt shamed.

This experience was nothing like my amazing years in high school. Add to that the heightened call to violence. Suddenly football was less attractive. My limited time with junior football was horrible. I quit the team.

I chose to return to high school for a fourth year and very much looked forward to playing another season. I knew love was there for me and no one ever wanted me to hurt anyone. I deeply missed this safe harbour.

There was a ruling, from the High School Athletic Association, that would not allow me to play my fourth year with my high school team because of the experience I gained in junior football. I was confused and devastated.

I was never able to tell my brother how terrified I was playing on that junior team. He stopped showing any interest in football as it related to me. The chasm between us deepened. 

The following year I headed to the University of Alberta.

What got me there was the attention I received from the Golden Bears Head Coach. I felt he really cared about me as he enticed me to attend the U of A. I can see now it was the feeling of love or my sense of what love was.

Boy, was I wrong.

When I got myself onto the practice field for the first time, I walked over to the Head Coach and respectfully said, “Proud to report to practice, Chief.” He glared at me and sharply shouted, “It’s Coach! And don’t ever tell me how you feel!” Embarrassed, shamed, feeling unloved and clearly wanting to bolt, I instead turned around and headed into practice.

I made the Golden Bears team of 1977. 

TKD UA

I remember wanting to ask my former high school coaches if feeling so afraid was a normal response to playing on a university football team. I never felt comfortable asking a question for which I thought I’d get laughed at. 

In time, the fear I was experiencing was overwhelming. I’d liken it to the effects connected to post traumatic stress disorder that I read about. The violence I experienced as a member of the U of A football team was even greater.

Sometime during that season I walked away from the team. I never talked to anyone about it. I returned to Calgary.

Being so unconscious, in my life at the time, I eventually returned to the game. This time it was with the University of Calgary. Perhaps being at home would allow me to feel loved.

Not only did that end up being untrue. The fear for the game steadily increased. I became a master at avoiding what I thought would hurt me during practice and also chose to use a separate locker room from the team so I could feel safer.

It amazes me that no one ever suspected the fear I held or how it was that no one ever asked me about it. For me, there was no way I’d ever let someone know how terrified I was.

In what became the last game I ever played in 1980, I sustained a pretty significant head injury. I believe it was classified as a third-grade concussion.

Although I didn’t get it at the time, the injury – my bump on the head – woke me up to the terror that the game I used to love was now causing me. I’d never play again.

After coming out I remember my dear friend Shelagh, one of the few to support me and a wife of one of my teammates, saying she always wondered why I would hang around with the football wives and not my teammates at the football parties. Clearly, it was my need to feel loved and safe.

The dreams I have today of playing football always create immense anxiety, fear and trauma for me. I’ve wondered how I could make them stop.

By telling this story and no longer feeling ashamed of sharing how scary football became for me, I am going to trust that my dreams will change.

I choose to make the generous assumption that I was doing the best I could at the time even though it might have been for either love or touchdowns.

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About Thomas Kevin Dolan Coaching

Thomas Kevin Dolan, Master Integrative Coach Professional™ and International Coach Federation member, has, for close to a decade, coached or advised everyday folks who need a gentle reminder to get out of their own way. People – such as athletes, high-profile executives, parents, siblings, couples, artists, activists, those pretending to know, those willing to not know, entrepreneurs, and seekers of ease, effortlessness and grace – who wish to effectively and successfully participate in a healthy relationship with themselves, and with others they value. Thomas and his work has been featured on HealingPodTV, Yinstill Reproductive Wellness, and The Ford Institute for Transformational Training. He has also been featured in major publications such as Xtra West, Business In Vancouver, Living Out Vancouver and Out In Singapore. He resides in Vancouver, British Columbia and Honolulu, Hawaii. Magic exists in his life because he knows that which he seeks is already seeking him, and he allows wisdom to have its way.
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4 Responses to For Love or Touchdowns

  1. Paula says:

    Thomas I believe all that we have experienced in our lives both good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, hurtful and loving all are meant to happen to us for some reason why that reason I have stopped trying to figure out. Through those experiences and the people those experiences have brought into my life I have learned…there was tough learning, and kind learning, learning that made sense and learning that didn’t, learnings that hurt me to the core and learnings thay made me stronger. Now finally at 63 I am able to put it all together, somewhat at least, and have created a healthy, strong, good life for myself. You my friend were and still are a great contributer to all that my life has become and I am sure I am not the only one you have had that affect on. Maybe your talent and pain in football opened up the doors for opportunities to experience great love, great fear, great pain, great shame, great joy, great pride and all the other greatness that you my friend are. Football is a brutal, unforgiving sport one of those ones that makes no sense as to why it is held in reverence but we humans do and it appears that many, many facets of the sport can be both beneficial and detremental…. I guess like with many things we get to choose how we can benefit or not. You Thomas are the great man you are and all of us whose lives you continue to touch are the beneficiaries of all your Touchdowns ….on the Football Field, in your Corporate Life, in your Family Life and just hanging out on this Earth….Thank you for your simple acts of love and being you.💟

    • Paula, I now know why I waited the length of time I waited to publish this blog… the lessons are so profound. Thank you for reminding me of the wisdom every moment & choice hold. With your help, I get it. And I totally get the potent force that the wisdom of aging brings. I too can relate to what you refer to as being “able to put it all together”. Thank you for walking with me. I knew, in my heart of hearts, I was never alone. Sending loving Aloha… xo

  2. Dear Thomas, What a candid reminder of what we do to “win” love, to fit in, ultimately facing terror in our desire to “belong”. I, like so many others, relate to your story. For me, it was being a cheerleader. The year I didn’t “make” the squad was devastating. The shame I felt went to my core. My identity of “belonging” was stripped away. Now, so many decades later, I know that no one can take away my birthright of love and connection unless I hand it over. Your story will help nurture this understanding so that others will heal or perhaps never have to experience this kind of trauma. Love you much. Thank you.

  3. Oh Cate… Thank you for the gentle kudos. Here’s to less trauma, more vulnerability & more courage. Thank you for helping me see myself. Sending loving Aloha… xo

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