Right now, all of our minds are elsewhere.
We all sit at our dinner tables, social gatherings, and professional functions with heavy hearts and spinning heads.
I’m reminded of the classic Aaron Sorkin-helmed NBC drama The West Wing in moments like these. In the episode titled Noel, White House Deputy Chief-of-Staff Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford, is going through a period of personal crisis.
He’s physically and mentally wrecked and is being forced by his mentor — Chief-of-Staff Leo McGarry — to see a therapist. After his meeting, a reeling but recovering Lyman sees his idol and boss standing in the hallway. Leo imparts the following knowledge:
“This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
I’m neither a doctor nor a priest. But during this time, I sure could use a friend.
As fans, we’ve all been gut-punched. But those hits are normally because of a recruiting whiff or a stinging loss. It’s never a moment when everything you believe in is brought into question. This is a different sort of pain. And maybe I don’t wholly know the way out, but I’m way down in the hole with you.
In my non-Champaign Room life, one of my professional specializations is Change Management Communications. It’s a management consulting boondoggle that often requires unwieldy teams to facilitate the expectations, alterations, and implementations of software, policies, etc.
One of the first lessons I learned as a change communicator is that there is great danger in filling the information chasm with speculation.
And make no mistake about it, the coming weeks will be a textbook exercise in change management. It’s a setup of a new normal that none of us were expecting. It’s the storm for which we couldn’t batten down the hatches.
Even Illinois’ vigilant leader Josh Whitman marveled Friday at his press conference at how enjoyable watching Terrence Shannon Jr. has been.
So as a fan base, we can’t be the group that rampantly shouts what we don’t know. It doesn’t help. It only makes us look like we value young men throwing a ball in a cylinder more than getting the truest possible version of justice.
Please, I implore you, don’t be that guy.
We’re all sort of grieving. It’s like the season and the accused are parts of our bigger family, and it’s easy to feel like this is a eulogy for our collective innocence. Resist that temptation.
The young men who are still taking the court have worked hard for their entire lives to have these moments on the court. They are worthy of your support. They are deserving of your compassion. Don’t forget, some of these young men aren’t even old enough to have a postgame beer at KAMS. This is new for them, and they’re going to struggle with adjusting to the new normal.
The off-the-court stuff carries a much more metallic aftertaste than whatever happens during conference play. So please, consider the new lives with increased scrutiny these young men will be enduring in the coming weeks. And show them some compassion if layups and corner threes take a backseat to mental health and community rebuilding.
In this storm, I encourage us, the fans, to be the sturdy pole while the men’s basketball program is the necessary flag: tossed about, subject to the external and internal pressures of a cruel physical and mental universe.
I saw a pillow once that said, “Be my peace, I’m from Chicago.” I felt heard in that pillow.
I encourage us to be the stabilizing peace that serves these young men during what is undoubtedly a challenging time in their burgeoning lives.