“Everything is everything,” is the mantra that Reggie cockily repeats this week in his ongoing mission to annoy Spencer Strasmore in the Vernon Littlefield negotiations. For Ricky Jerret, the embattled veteran wide receiver, a more appropriate mantra might be “everything is transition.”
I guess one man’s “deep” is another man’s “sophomoric.”
Ricky, played by John David Washington, is the star of this week’s episode, but it’s certainly not for his on-the-field performance — at least not that we’ve seen yet. Ricky is in major transition. He’s going through things. In the twilight of his career, he’s finding more trouble off the field than success on it. With Ricky’s affair with his teammate’s mom front and center, Spencer has turned to damage control mode (even as he jokes about “spanky”) in order to salvage Ricky’s last chance with the Dolphins.
For a guy who acts recklessly at times, Ricky is incredibly likable, a trait John David Washington most likely inherited from his dad (Denzel). In episode six, Ricky confronts two major issues: growing up without a dad and the fear of the end.
I cannot comment on growing up in a single-parent home, as Ricky shared in his interview with Jay Glazer this week. I was lucky enough to have both my parents around. However, over the years I have had a lot of conversations with teammates who have recounted their experience growing up without a father. Their affecting stories share a lot of features with Ricky Jerret’s.
What I can comment on is the fear of the end. This fall will be the first time in 12 years that I do not attend a training camp of any kind. It feels weird. I’m seeing a lot of my friends pack their things and go dark for the next 30 days, with little to zero contact with the outside world. My mind and body are telling me to do the same thing, but for the first time in more than a decade, I won’t be.
I was a journeyman in the NFL who bounced around from team to team for almost three years, and each training camp brought an anxiety that this just might be the end. Unless you are a starter, your spot on a 53-man NFL roster is never guaranteed. As cut day draws near, it could be the last time you put on an NFL uniform. (I wrote about being an NFL journeyman earlier this year.)
My fear peaked in last season’s training camp. I was with the Tennessee Titans, and even though I was playing decently well, I knew it wasn’t enough to make the team. After my last preseason game, I couldn’t sleep, knowing that my cell phone could ring at any moment. Sure enough, at 6:15 a.m., I got my call from the cut guy. I packed my bags and drove over to the facility to go through the waiver process.
After meeting with the GM and head coach, I drove five hours back to Indianapolis where my wife and I were living at the time. The entire ride I thought about “the end.” I was now finished with my third training camp with as many teams, and I was 25 years old, which unlike other professions, means I was getting old. Old at 25? That’s the NFL. I could not comprehend a life after football.
This is the fear that Ricky Jerret is talking about.
Football is great. It provides structure and discipline. And when you’re not worried about getting cut every week, football is a ton of fun. These are all obvious statements, but when you’re also getting paid millions of dollars to have fun, the thought that it will all come to an end before you turn 30 can be horrifying. Ricky has his fun house, his cars and his women, but when he does eventually retire, will the fantasy and the toys be enough to fill the void?
I talk often about the transition from football to real life. I was able to navigate it with minor turbulence, but it hits other athletes much harder. I found that when I did not think about life after football, I played better and with more desperation to make a team. It is a fairly simple psychology: live every day as if it were your last. The problem is that there is life after football, and if you don’t plan for it, you could find yourself lost and without any direction. It is finding the balance between the two that can help you transition much smoother. A little denial is OK, but you’ve got to confront reality.
Ricky knows his career is in its last act. He may have a good two years left, but in his mind, I think he knows it may be much less. And while it appears that Ricky’s interview with Jay Glazer has salvaged his reputation for the time being, Ricky’s big hurdle won’t be cleared in front of TV cameras. It will be digging deep inside himself to finish his career strong — and figure out what happens next.
Indeed, everything is transition. And hey, for its part, Ballers is transitioning — six episodes into the first season — into a solid show.