It’s Just a Game… It’s Just a Game?

By Kerri Whitaker, Assistant Coach, University of Pennsylvania @PennWomensLax

If you’re anything like me, you’ve bristled many times over the years as someone has said to you, “It’s just a game.” With oblivious good intentions: “It’s just a game.” With sympathy after a tough loss: “It’s just a game.” With bewilderment, over why you care so much: “It’s just a game.”

Photo courtesy of Penn Athletics Communications.

Recently, we were in the office watching film on a Monday afternoon when I received the text that said, “Please call me ASAP.” Moments later, on the phone with my father, he told me about a sudden and shocking death in our family. Through my tears, I could see my notes on the scout video, and I thought to myself, “Who cares about these clips?”

I left work that afternoon to go home and be with my family. As I walked out, knowing that I would miss practice that night, I thought to myself, “It’s just a game.”

Later that day, I texted the other coaches on our staff, thanking them for their love, support, and friendship. I felt grateful for their caring compassion and thought about how lucky I am to work alongside such incredible people.

The funeral would be later in the week on a Friday, the day before an early morning departure for a weekend road trip with the team. It was every bit as heartbreaking as I knew it would be, and as so many old familiar faces filed into the church, I felt so moved by the simple act of people just showing up and being there to show their support. I thought of this little article I’d read years ago, “Always Go To The Funeral,” by Deirdre Sullivan. The inherent humanity of that day will stay with me for a long time.

I didn’t sleep much that night, and wasn’t sure how I would be over the weekend while I was with the team. And then, I boarded the bus, we got to the airport, and the intrinsic magic of the team dynamic took over and pulled me in. The natural camaraderie came easy. The April Fools jokes made everyone explode with laughter. And the team dinner felt like being with family. We brought the win back home with us, and it felt good – to be with the team, to get lost in the game, to feel normal. Lacrosse has long given that gift to me; over many years, it has never, ever been just a game.

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