Tony Romo Is The Most Empathetic Figure In Sports

TSFJ's Steven LeBron wrote a similar piece last January. I recommend reading here. 

You have an opinion of Tony Romo. He leads a team you either love or despise. He’s a good quarterback who can’t seem to break the wall we’ve built for him. When he makes mistakes, we roll our eyes or laugh because we knew it was inevitable. If he plays well, we simply wait for the other cleat to drop.

Romo is a conundrum. He can out-throw Peyton Manning in one game and look pedestrian in the next. We can’t pick him apart for lack of toughness — he’s played through a bevy of injuries. It’s inaccurate to say he stinks — statistics are difficult to ignore.

The Eagles fan in me — all 100 percent — likes it as much as the next guy when Romo tosses the ball to the defense. There’s never a shortage of joy when the Cowboys fail. Like much of America, the losses are reason for celebration.

For all we know about the embattled quarterback, we overlook something much more important. In the human drama — the natural stage of sports — he’s the most empathetic figure around. Sure, he makes millions of dollars. And it’s unlikely you’ve played for the Dallas Cowboys. Make no mistake, there’s no sense crying for Romo. But there’s something within him that plagues all of us at some point in our lives. It’s something that should make us at least relate to the poor guy.

Despite our allegiances, we’re all humans. If we truly want to see what Romo represents or how his play should be critiqued, let’s look at ourselves. Take the player off the team, and take wins and losses out of the equation.

When Dallas lost to Washington in the final game of the 2012 season, it made things crystal clear. Romo led the Cowboys back in the game. He had the ball with a chance to drive his team to glory. Yet, when they showed him on the sideline, he had a look of fearful understanding. Viewers could tell he was plagued by the demons that haunt him so.

His pass went to a Washington defender. Game over. Season over. In the seconds after the interception, the camera found his face. He closed his eyes, puckered his mouth and grabbed his face mask with both hands. He tightened his grip on the helmet, with all his frustration pouring into his fingers’ tension.

The thought in his mind wasn’t, “Sh*t, our season is over.” Instead, it was, “Sh*t, I did it again.”

He played so well up to that point, as is his custom. Romo leads. Romo scrambles. Romo finds Dez Bryant for a big play. Romo does what he does, and then — just when you think he’s got it figured out — it happens. Worse, it normally happens on the biggest stages. The fumbled snap against Seattle in the 2007 foretold the prophecy.

There are moments in life where we have it all made. Things are falling into place, and we are light years from failure. We’re so far from disappointment that it never crosses our minds. We make a path so clean of debris, it becomes hard to remember what debris is.

Think of a big presentation at your job. You get the opportunity. Then, you study every thinkable fact you’d need. Putting together the visuals takes time, and you spend countless hours making it perfect. After rehearsing your speech hundreds of times, you know everything is set to go. You’re on the way to promotion, better hours and the office with a window.

Then, you lose your composure. A question is asked you weren’t ready for, or you stumble over a few key sentences. Suddenly, the debris is all over your road and there’s nothing left to do but pick it up and wait for the next opportunity. When it arrives, you tell yourself it won’t happen again — that is, if you even have the guts to get involved.

Maybe you’re a college student who is the life of the party. Every joke flows perfectly, and you are wearing your sharpest shirt — which draws plenty of compliments. You make friends, and you endear yourself even more to old ones. It’s your show, and everyone is playing second and third fiddles. In walks someone you need to meet. When the time comes and the shortest of moments presents itself, you can’t talk. It’s over and done. Out they walk, and your debris falls around you. The party wasn’t worth the time, effort and energy. Despite a solid showing for much of the night, it doesn’t matter to you. You lost.

Countless similar examples exist. There are opportunities for us in life to take a hold of the reins and make good things happen. Unless we sit out every chance, we put ourselves in positions to win. Do the losses we suffer make us who we are? Even if we never win, are we destined to be losers — serving no purpose but fodder for laughs?

So, when Romo hit a Denver linebacker on Sunday, the fan in us likely rejoiced. The empathizing human in me didn’t. Deep down, it’s hard to feel good about Romo’s failures. If he were just another run-of-the-mill quarterback for the Cowboys, it’d be easier. If he were just another guy who hiccupped and lived to triumph another day, why would we care?

Fair or not, his self-fulfilling legacy continues to grow. Apologists will point to statistics. Detractors will point to big-game failures. I will point to the identification of another man who is constantly reminded of the thing that makes us all who we are every day.

He might do it one day. Maybe he’ll make the play that wins the Super Bowl. There’s always a chance for him, as there is for us. The Eagles fan in me hopes he never succeeds, and it corresponds with my human side. They live in harmony in Romo’s failure, only because his troubles remind me of ours. He simply can’t win, and we need to feel that. We could use reminders that he feels, too.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we’ve all been there. We’ve all thrown it to the defense and watched helplessly as the opponent rejoiced in our dejection.

In a land and time that seems bereft of empathy — and sympathy for that matter — we’re too hard on Romo. We overlook his feelings and work ethic. After all, his position, profession and team make it easy to see him as more than the common man.

When he throws the next interception or fumbles the next ball, take a second. Remember a time when you flat-out choked. You’ve done it before and likely did it again afterwards.

The stage of sports is full of characters and scenes that bring out emotions and thoughts. Romo does it better than we’d like to admit. He’s the tragic hero of the National Football League, only because his reflection hangs in our mirrors.

6 Replies to “Tony Romo Is The Most Empathetic Figure In Sports”

  1. Really well-written and thought-provoking piece. I think a large majority of people can relate to Tony Romo's struggles, even successful people because, well, Tony Romo is actually a good quarterback who has had a lot of success … only to be overshadowed by his screw-ups.

    Having said that … can't feel sorry for a Cowboy for anything bad that happens to him on the field. Not now. Not ever.

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