By Joe Whalen
I've witnessed many ugly incidents in my life: fist fights among friends in bars, shouting matches between lovers on the street, confrontations between colleagues in the work place, verbal arrows slung by parents at their children for weak performances in the field of play.
I've also seen acts of great beauty: hands lent to strangers in times of crisis, tears of joy shed by grandparents over the birth of grandchildren, athletes dejected by loss lifting their heads in pride, hugs between fathers and sons after victories, and defeats, in the field of life.
I've been around the block more than a few times. But in my 36 years, I have never witnessed the opposites of beauty and ugliness counteract each other the way they did Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
David Knight, a freshman at Montana State University-Northern and a graduate of Havre High, kicked the first game-winning field goal of his college career in overtime of the final game for the Lights' seven seniors. Talk about redemption. The kid had failed to convert two field goal attempts and one extra point before ultimately rewarding his coaches and teammates for the faith they placed in him. The kick, and the celebration caused by it, were beautiful.
Within seconds, however, beauty exited stage left as ugliness drew audience attention stage right. According to several witnesses, Marlon Grier, a senior linebacker for Rocky Mountain College, sprinted about 60 yards diagonally across the gridiron and leveled an official from behind with a body block.
I must admit that I didn't see the incident, as my eyes were occupied by the image of Northern players hoisting their knight. But I did see its aftermath: the handcuffing of Mr. Grier, the rage he displayed upon being arrested, the taunting of his actions by fans, the fear on the collective face of an officiating crew as it sought refuge from the chaos in a motor home parked near the southeast corner of the stadium.
I don't know Mr. Grier, but I'm confident that he knows many things in the fields of work, play, competition, study and life about which I know nothing. But I hope he hears me, and believes me, when I say that I know what it feels like to be taken over by rage and taken into custody by authorities. I too have been arrested for assault. Once.
I know firsthand the sense of futility that accompanies detainment behind bars, the shame of having to face loved ones ashamed of me, the humiliation of being strip-searched, the frustration of having victimized an innocent person and become a victim of my own rage.
Anger is a double-edged sword that can carve out a future or shred a past. It has landed me in jail, but it has also fueled whatever success I have sliced out of life. It drives me to get out of bed in the morning, work like a dog and deny fatigue, much like an athlete in a zone pumping iron beyond the point where he thought his head would explode.
A moment of channeled anger can lift its carrier across unbroken seas for months. But a moment of unrestrained anger can torment its vessel like a demon running wild in the soul for years.
That's why I keep my anger, my greatest ally as well as my worst enemy, close to my heart. I keep it under wraps, unleashing it only through productive avenues. I try to use it, rather than let it use me.
Regardless of innocence or guilt, Mr. Grier's football career is over. Saturday's game was his final one. After dishing out thousands of hits on the field, his final shot did the most damage. Now he should listen to the whistle opening the doors to the rest of his life.
Through my penalties and my rewards, I have learned that anger can but need not be a bad thing. And that beauty can but need not be accompanied by ugliness.
Like a sack delivered by a linebacker rushing untouched into the backfield, or a kicker on ice waiting to try and win a game, beauty can stand alone.
I hope Mr. Grier, my fellow student of life, learns the same lesson.