As soon as his body went limp in midair, everyone watching knew the eventual outcome.
Victor Cruz would not play another game in 2014.
Cruz hit the ground after the ball fluttered through his hands and remained down, writhing in pain and adding injury to what was an already insulting 27-0 Sunday Night Football Giants loss. But the damage was already done. Or so everyone thought.
Following the typical convergence of medical personnel, Cruz was carted off the field and into the locker room. But rather than give the comforting ‘thumbs up’ to his fans, Cruz used his hands in a different fashion.
He buried his face in his palms and cried hysterically.
The cameras stayed focused on the weeping Cruz — perhaps too long for the devastated wide receiver — as he made his way across the New York Giants’ sideline. Every player within arm’s reach extended their hands towards Cruz and gave him a pat on the shoulder or back. No one could ignore the heart-breaking scene of watching their teammate and, basically, brother in such immense pain. It was undeniable that it ran deeper than the physical nerves in his knee.
This was a blow to the heart of anyone watching.
For a number of reasons, including his patented salsa touchdown dance and his honoring of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting, Victor Cruz has become one of the most well-liked players in the National Football League. In a world where it seems like every week features a new scandal involving a professional athlete — namely, football players — those who remain in the good graces of fans are of a rare breed. Cruz has now been in this select group for a few years.
It’s easy to say that his status among fans is why Cruz’s injury on Sunday night was so difficult to watch, but fan-favorites get hurt every week. Technically, this one was no different from the rest. And in reality, it wasn’t.
What put Cruz’s injury in a class of its own was the tears that streamed down his face afterwards.
On any given week, we hear about contract disputes – ironically, Cruz had his own last year – and players that won’t fight through injuries. We hear about selfish wide receivers and turmoil among teammates. We hear about the negative attitudes of professional athletes all the time.
On Sunday Night Football, we witnessed the true emotion of one player.
Victor Cruz’s heart was as torn as the tendon in his knee, and he showed unrestrained passion in the moments that followed the injury. It was one of the most descriptive images that could be captured by a television camera, and its impact transcended the game.
It was, in essence, a beautiful reaction to a devastating tragedy.
It also begs the question to be asked, “Why don’t we see this more?”
No one should find comfort in the pain and sadness of others, and certainly that is not the case with Victor Cruz’s injury, but the outward display of emotion is an inspiring sign of how much this game means to some people. As fans, we are invested in our teams to a truly unparalleled — read, fanatical — level. We are often reminded that athletes view the game differently than we do, and we are usually told that there is a disassociation between the love of the game and the reality that it is, for them, an occupation.
Victor Cruz sent a message with his inconsolable tears: the game means more to these players than we realize.
It is their livelihood. Their paycheck. Their ability to feed their children. We’ve known this.
What we often forget is that it is, also, their love.
Professional athletes, young as they may be when they retire, have likely only known how to excel at one distinct ability throughout their entire lives: their sport. While the rest of the American public may struggle to find a job that pays their bills or keeps their interest, athletes have been honing in on one goal from the day they were able to walk.
When it is — or may be — taken away from them, their entire lives as they knew them have also been changed forever.
Victor Cruz may or may not play professional football again. He may or may not be the same player he was 24 hours ago. He may have seen his life’s direction irreparably altered in an unfortunate instant.
Maybe this is why he cried so visibly as he was driven off the field. Maybe he realized this. Maybe he was afraid.
Whatever it was and whatever reason drove the emotion out of him, it was an honorable display of a man allowing the little boy that loves this game so much to seep out. It was the terrible, yet poignant display that sends shivers down our spines as we watch in awe of other people’s athleticism while pouring our hearts and souls onto their shoulders.
And if we don’t watch sports for what they bring out in people, why else would we care so much?
For one devastating moment, we realized, we were not alone in our passion.
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