What was the best play made by a wide receiver during last weekend’s NFL playoff games? Hint: it wasn’t a touchdown catch.
Last Saturday night, during the Indianapolis Colts-Baltimore Ravens matchup, Colts wide receiver Pierre Garçon showed amazing heart and hustle. Here’s what happened: In the second half, Garçon’s teammate Peyton Manning (just named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for a record fourth time) threw the ball downfield in Garçon’s direction. In a potentially disastrous reversal, Ravens safety Ed Reed stepped up, intercepted the pass and ran the ball 38 yards the other way—but Garçon, the intended receiver, ran faster, chased Reed all the way downfield, and made a successful diving effort to punch the ball out of Reed’s clutches. Garçon forced a fumble, the Colts recovered, and the game was more or less over. In a sense, Pierre Garçon won it for the Colts by playing defense.
Garçon is, I believe, the only NFL player with a cédille on his jersey. (A cédille is the little French symbol that goes underneath the “c” to indicate an “s” sound.) Born in Carmel, New York, Garçon is of Haitian descent, which explains the French-ness of his name. After the Colts’ victory he brought out a Haitian flag and also spoke about the crisis in Haiti during the post-game press conference. I found myself wondering if the anxiety Garçon felt this week about family members in Haiti somehow fueled that burst of speed down the sideline; Ed Reed was an opponent with a face and a human form, probably something of a relief to a guy like Garçon who spent last week trying to get through to family members in Haiti. (What does it mean to play, to compete, when your mind is occupied by a shattered family homeland?)
There is at least one other Haitian American football player whose team is still competing for a spot in the Super Bowl: the New Orleans Saints linebacker Stanley Arnoux, whose half-siblings still live in Haiti. Athletes of Haitian descent in the NFL and elsewhere have been urging American sports fans (and Americans in general) to donate money to relief efforts. At the same time, they have provided wrenching, unscripted testimony to the horror of watching a beloved place reduced to rubble. Philadelphia 76ers center Samuel Delambert, who was born in Port-au-Prince, told the Associated Press, “It’s kind of hard to fathom a situation like this because those people didn’t do anything wrong… I feel helpless.”
Last Thursday on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart bemoaned the weirdly politicized coverage of the Haiti catastrophe, singling out Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson for their by-now-familiar loony commentary. For the sake of balance, Stewart went after Rachel Maddow in the segment, too. Stewart’s point: there is no “right side” to a terrible tragedy like the earthquake in Haiti and its aftermath—commentators are profoundly misguided when they make such tragedies into political snipe-fests.
Feels strange to say it, but I think one of the cable channels that was offering the kind of reporting Stewart was looking for was ESPN. Well, it may not have been reporting exactly, but there was a kind of humility and relative lack of bias in the way the Disney-owned sports news network referred to the catastrophe in Haiti. I can’t claim to have closely monitored ESPN’s coverage in the past week, although I did tune in to the network occasionally during the run-up to the weekend’s football games. In one instance I watched while ESPN’s Bob Ley interviewed the NBA’s Delambert over the phone, asking for the Haitian-born basketball star’s perspective on the tragedy, letting Delambert share the information he’d gathered and tell a bit about his family’s story. Bob Ley did not pretend to know anything about the proper response to a natural disaster like the one Haiti has suffered. He was respectful and sympathetic as a listener, but he’s a sports guy, and had the good sense not to pick a side or look for an angle. I’m not suggesting that ESPN is a bastion of objective journalism, but I appreciated Ley’s attitude. As a sports news anchor, he wasn’t pretending that he could make sense of Haiti’s tragedy, or that his job was to help us see the magnitude of the crisis. But he felt that it was necessary to acknowledge the real news, even on a show about sports, and he created a space for someone from his community to voice their sorrows.