On Second Chances & Super Bowls
If you’re reading this, you know how important second chances can be to a person. In fact, you’re likely seeking a second chance of your own. Humans trip, and fall, even run into things, each and every day. That’s part of what makes us human. What defines us though is how we rebound. Do we get back up and start all over again? Or do we rise from our past actions and soar beyond the trouble? Mostly though, do we regret what we’ve done and are we ready, willing and eager to make amends?
Notice we didn’t say able to make amends. That’s because many folks never get the opportunity. That’s right, circumstances prevent them from ever even getting a second chance. And without a second chance, the possibility of redemption is basically null.
But what decides who gets second chances? Is it the person themselves or is it some kind of outside force? Do we earn it? Can we create it? How do we know when and if we deserve it? Furthermore, are second chances finite? Is we get one and blow it, is that the end of our opportunity?
Those are all great questions. They’re also almost impossible to answer. Why? Because there really are no clear rules regarding second chances. Some of the most deserving people never get them; while some of the least-deserving get ’em again and again. And woe to those who are denied the opportunity, deserving or otherwise.
Super Bowl Sunday happens to be a perfect day to consider the importance of second chances; that’s likely why New York Times Opinion Writer and Podcast Host Jane Coaston decided to take up the call. Then again, the Cincinnati native could’ve just decided it was the right time to further herald them Bengals. Whatever the reason, we’re especially grateful for her redemptive exploration.
Second Chances According to Coaston
Like everyone in the world, Coaston is taken with the improbability of the Bengals playing in “the biggest game in American sports.” And like (most) everyone else, she seems delighted about it too. Even L.A. Rams fans are not immune to the justness of seeing such a team reach such a height. Truth be told, many are even a little envious of the attention.
Coaston’s also proud of the team though. And she should be. Second chances are indeed “a rare gift, especially in the N.F.L.” However Coaston also acknowledges the caveats. Second chances can be complicated. Few more so than those granted Bengals wide receiver Trent Taylor and running back Joe Mixon.
Taylor’s story comes first. Taylor “was with the San Francisco 49ers when the team reached the Super Bowl” in 2019, but he never saw the field. In fact, a preseason foot injury kept him sidelined throughout the year. Taylor’s next game with the 49ers (2020’s first) was his last.
One the eve of this season, Taylor was signed, waived and re-signed by the Bengals. The re-signing though was to the team’s practice squad, which meant he got to “practice, travel and workout with the main team,” but not to play. So he was still a sideline away from all the fast action.
Being on the practice squad though also meant he was one of two players able to be called to play on game day, and that’s just “what happened to Taylor on the night before the A.F.C. Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs.” It was the very “match that determined whether the Bengals would go to the Super Bowl,” continues Coaston. “[And] in the third quarter, Taylor caught a pass from quarterback Joe Burrow to tie the score at 21-21 on the tail of a furious comeback by Cincinnati.”
Call it kismet, fate, talent, or simply the luck of the draw. A door opened, and Taylor stepped through it beautifully. And he consequently got his second chance at a Super Bowl.
“It’s a huge deal for me personally because, you know, guys in this league … guys will play 12, 15 years and never get an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl,” Taylor told the AP. “So once I missed that first opportunity, I didn’t know if it would ever come back.”
Joe Mixon’s second chance is a bit more complicated. Unlike Taylor, Mixon played every Bengals game this season. In fact, he scored an impressive 13 touchdowns for the team. (The most since Ickey Woods’ 15 in 1988.) But Mixon might never have made it to the N.F.L. at all.
“In July 2014,” writes Coaston, Mixon “was about to start his freshman year at the University of Oklahoma when he punched a female student. [In fact], he hit her so hard that she was knocked unconscious and required reconstructive surgery to repair four broken bones in her face. Mixon was charged with misdemeanor assault and suspended for the entire 2014 season.”
For some reason Mixon got to stay in school though. And he was allowed to return to the team in 2015. Hard to say whether he’d be allowed to remain today, but there you have it. And after “two strong seasons” with the Sooners, he declared for the N.F.L. Then came the blowback — the release of the video, a lawsuit by the victim, Mixon stricken from the N.F.L. combine (as all are those convicted of domestic violence or sexual assault). Five or six teams reportedly even removed him from consideration.
But Mixon was “just too talented” to ignore. That’s what one N.F.L. executive said. It’s apparently what more than one N.F.L. executive believed too. The Bengals drafted him in the second round.
Now Mixon will play on the biggest stage in American sports. He’ll likely do well too. Real well. After all, he is a real talent. In fact, some people believe talent is the only reason Mixon was even given a second chance. Many less talented folks, they argue, would never have received such an extraordinary opportunity.
On Luck and Second Chances
So who really deserves second chances? The Taylors or the Mixons or both? Should talent be a factor? Ever?
There’s no arguing Taylor’s talent helped him along. But Coaston suggests that it’s more than that. Much more.
“Taylor’s second chance is incredibly uncommon,” she writes “— and worth celebrating. Working your way back from injury is hard. Working your way back from injury with a new team and making it from the practice squad to the A.F.C. Championship? That’s almost impossible.”
Indeed. And Taylor should be applauded at every snap. So should the Bengals. After all, they’re getting something of a second chance themselves.
As for Mixon, well, Coaston has some profound and prudent ideas on that end too. And though we wholeheartedly agree with those ideas, they really need to speak for themselves.
“I think it’s a mistake to look through a lens of deservedness,” closes Coaston. “If we do, the implication is that there can only be so many second chances given out before the supply runs out. But the gift of a second chance isn’t, or shouldn’t, be limited. I think more people should get them. Mixon aside, our culture has become pretty unforgiving. But I think that people are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.”
That last line deserves some reverberation:
“People are more then the worst thing they’ve ever done.”
Happy Super Sunday everyone!