Note: written by my friend Ted Kluck. Ted is the award-winning author of over a dozen books on topics ranging from pro football to the church. This piece is Ted at his finest!
“I can’t believe I still have this,” said a tearful Brian Bosworth in an ESPN 30 for 30 called Brian and the Boz. “This is something I’m not proud of. This is not who I am. And I’ve apologized to my teammates and my school and my coach because of this.”
He is the picture of brokenness and contrition. “If there is one thing I could take back…I would take this back. Sometimes it’s good to have reminders of the mistakes you make…so I’ll keep it.”
He is speaking of a t-shirt emblazoned with “National Communists Against Athletes” which he famously wore to the 1987 Orange Bowl game – a game from which he was suspended because of a positive steroid test.
For the uninitiated, Brian Bosworth was an All-American linebacker at Oklahoma in the mid-80s, a lightning-rod for controversy (more below), owner of a fantastic mullet, and perhaps the first and maybe only genuinely cool white athlete in the 1980s. He created an alter-ego called “The Boz” which became his “brand” (before that term was worn out by a generation of uncool business books) and which he used to gather and market to his “tribe” (see: uncool business books, worn-out terms).
I was a member of his tribe. I bought a copy of his “autobiography” (quotes because it was ghostwritten by a pre-fame Rick Reilly, who was really the first Bill Simmons) and read it all on a trip to the University of Wisconsin where I would attend their summer football camp as a mostly-uncool white linebacker trying desperately to be like my new hero.
Bosworth was ahead of his time inasmuch as he wasn’t okay with the NCAA profiteering from his exploding and very lucrative image while he got nothing. He would have fit right in today, but in 1987 he desecrated the first church of college football. He was never forgiven.
The Boz, today, is known primarily for the mullet, the steroids, getting freight-trained by Bo Jackson and a disappointing NFL career. The sentence that follows will, hopefully, set some of that straight at least for a few readers: The Boz was an exceptionally-good inside linebacker. He could run from sideline to sideline, had great instincts and, were it not for injuries, would have had a very successful NFL career. Brian Bosworth, the linebacker, was not a media creation. He was all football player. He was legitimate.
After his lightning-rod career at Oklahoma, Bosworth was selected in the supplemental draft, signed the richest contract (to that point) in the history of the Seahawks franchise, had a great rookie season in 1987 with Seattle and then fizzled shortly thereafter due to injuries. He then embarked on a series of B-grade action movie appearances and, apparently, very little else. He dropped from the public eye as quickly has he put himself into it in the late 80s.
But that’s not what’s interesting about the documentary. What’s interesting is repentance. There isn’t a shred of bravado or “standing on his own rights” left in Bosworth. What remains is a very humble, genuine, and likeable middle-aged man who drank deeply from the fountain of fame and ego and found that it ruined his life. Now he’s trying to explain all of that to his teenage son, who accompanies him on the documentary as they rifle through boxes of Boz-related memorabilia in a Texas storage facility.
This is a portrayal that should be meaningful for us, as Christians, being that true repentance and brokenness are such a part of our experience in Christ. His tears flow freely in this documentary as he shares his sins with his son. It occurs to me that I’ve never been prouder of a childhood hero.
Some of the film’s participants extend forgiveness. Others don’t. Some understand Bosworth’s contrition. Others don’t.
“There’s more to life than paper clippings, accolades, and rewards,” he says, tearfully. He summed up the era best as he was showing a photograph to his son of himself, in sunglasses, on a media day podium surrounded by reporters shoving microphones in his face. “Awesome,” said his son. “You see ‘awesome’ but I see ‘lost,’” the Boz replies. “I’m up here trying to be a deity. But I’m just a football player.”