If I have one problem, it’s that I’m too sensitive.
Many people – okay, just I – tell me that all the time.
After Herschel Walker acknowledged his recent defeat in the U.S. Senate race for Georgia – whew! – I thought I’d be exultant and happy that he didn’t win.
I mean, Herschel is about as qualified to be a U.S. senator as my childhood neighbors’ cat – and Fluffy’s been dead for 50 years.
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Instead of joy, though, I felt pity and heard myself a few times saying “poor Herschel” without meaning to.
The dude went – lickety-split – from an object of revulsion and ridicule to one who looked like he needed a hug.
Part of my sympathy for him may lie in the fact that Herschel’s and my professional careers began around the same time in Georgia in 1979 – his stampeding up and down the football field at the University of Georgia in Athens and mine fetching coffee and dry cleaning for busy editors at the Atlanta Constitution newspaper.
He was from a little bitty Georgia city called Wrightsville and I was from a little bitty North Carolina city called Rockingham.
We’re both prone to exaggeration, too. He said he graduated at the top of his high school class and was a cop; I, for years, said I was an award-winning journalist without specifying that the “award” I won was the spelling bee in Mrs. Robinson’s 6th grade class.
That’s where our similarities ended. He was a phenomenon from Day 1 and even inspired a song that became a regional hit, “Give Herschel Walker The Ball (You All).”
To me, though, the most memorable thing he did was not on the gridiron, but in front of a microphone. Wrightsville was experiencing some racial turmoil and both sides of it were trying to get Herschel to speak up for them.
That’s a heavy load to lay on the most sophisticated 18-year-old, and Herschel was not that.
When asked to take sides, teenage Herschel’s response still rings out — “I just wanna play football,” he said.
I’m sure he did. To the discerning eye, it was obvious throughout the election and especially minutes after it was over that Herschel still just wanted to play football – or be anywhere other than running for a senate seat that even he had to know he was unqualified for. (Nearly two million Georgia voters knew it, too – and amazingly still voted for him.)
During the election and runoff, it was important to amplify the vast philosophical, political and moral differences between Walker and his opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock. Walker was going to come out on the short end of each of those.
Post-election, though, the people who still call Herschel dumb and a sellout are being gratuitously cruel, like pulling the wings off an already-wounded fly.
Several years ago, some guy became famous for seven-and-a-half minutes for making a cringey video defending Brittney Spears from her critics: “Leave Brittney Alone,” he wept unashamedly.
I’m not going to shed any tears for him but I, too, say “Leave Herschel Alone.”
And if you care for him, see that he seeks some help.