With four children involved in sports and other activities, our family
spends a lot of time on the sidelines, especially at the football
stadium. For all the hours I have spent watching tackle football, I
have to admit that the game still confuses me. I’m still pretty fuzzy
on what the players are doing, or even what they are supposed to be
However, one thing I have learned is what is expected of me, the
spectator. Sideline behavior has its own etiquette. At no time is this
more essential than when a player is injured, and all follow the
protocol of “taking a knee.” When a player falls, teammates and others
on the field do this literally; those in the stands show their respect
by quieting voices and actions. Usually, it isn’t long before the
player is met with applause as he either 1) returns to the game or 2)
limps off the field. Only then does play resume. Taking a knee may be
a game time courtesy, but it is still a sacred ritual—one considered
impolite, even offensive to ignore.
Recently, I witnessed the full extent of this custom when one of our
high school football players was seriously injured. Minutes dragged by
endlessly as an anxious crowd watched and waited for some sign from
the field. The gravity of the situation unfolded as an ambulance
pulled into the stadium and a stretcher rolled across the field. At
long last, #2 was wheeled away, but as he did so he slowly lifted his
arm into the air, giving a heartwarming “thumbs up” to the cheering
I feel privileged to have witnessed such things, finding in them a
touching reflection of something human beings have known for
centuries—that there are times when pain and suffering demand a little
deference, even ceremony. Loss—especially loss of life—commands
respect, and we who witness hurt are called to honor the hurting
properly. We see a perfect example of this in the Jewish mourning
ritual of Shiva. For starters, mourners customarily sat on low stools
or the floor, symbolizing the emotional reality of being brought low
by grief. God’s chosen people knew how to take a knee.
For me, the practice raises this question: Are we giving due
consideration when our teammates fall? Even before we offer comfort
and assistance, are we pausing to pay our respects? Could we as
believers “mourn with those who mourn” more thoughtfully if we, too
were to take a knee? If we did, perhaps “football Shiva” would look
something like this:
• We would be present. Jews considered it a great mitzvah (literally
“commandment” but usually interpreted as “good deed”) of kindness and
compassion to pay a home visit to the mourners. If we would be
effective “spectators” we have to show up.
• We would be focused. For those whose lives have just been turned
upside-down by tragedy, the very least we can do is to put our own
concerns on hold for a while. One way to demonstrate respect is by
offering our undivided attention.
• We would be patient. Depending on the injury, some players will
need more time to get to their feet than others. It would be
insensitive to rush this process. We show our respect by giving enough
• We would be silent. Silence was a key element of Shiva, as visitors
would not speak at all unless mourners first initiated conversation.
So often misfortune leaves us embarrassed and tongue-tied, and even
our most heartfelt eloquence can be so much pointless drivel to those
who mourn. The Jews understood what we tend to forget—that sometimes
the most comforting thing we can say is nothing at all. With our
silence, we acknowledge both the profundity of grief and the
inadequacy of human wisdom before it.
While there is still plenty I don’t get about football, I’ve learned a
lot from this time on the bleachers, thankful for wisdom I can utilize
on and off the field. I realize that I don’t have to make sense of
life in order to participate in it, and while I may be clueless as to
what to say or do, God is still able to use me to serve others.
Finally, I’ve learned that suffering should turn me instinctively to
God. When knocked down by life, before I do anything else, I need to
lift my gaze to the Comforter, Healer and Giver of Life . . . to
humbly, and respectfully, take a knee.