We need to talk about Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Joseph Ossai.
In the last minute of the AFC Championship, with the game tied at 20, and the Kansas City Chiefs needing 10-15 yards to put Harrison Butker in position to kick a field goal that would send the Chiefs to the Super Bowl, the game’s best passer, on a busted ankle, broke toward the sideline to pick up a first down and stop the clock.
Joseph Ossai sprinted toward the sideline as if the entire season depended on it, and got a hand on Patrick Mahomes, pushing him into the Bengals bench.
The problem? Ossai was late, and the ensuing 15-yard penalty gave the Chiefs exactly what they needed.
As the confetti dropped in Arrowhead stadium, Ossai sat on the bench, sobbing. Some teammates attempted to console him. Many others, wrapped up in their own emotions of disappointment, did not.
Every game has a hero, every game has a goat. That’s the beauty of sport. It’s a different formula of our favorite narrative. A winner and a loser. Gratitude and grief. Elation and sorrow.
Small minds often get lost in the simplicity of the narrative, and are consumed with what it means for them.
Let’s get into the complexity of the story of last night’s “villain.”
Joseph Ossai came to this country at the age of 10. He picked up football in high school, and became good enough to have every school in Texas fighting over him. His mother, praying over his future, had a dream where he became a Longhorn. Trusting the faith of his mother, he chose Austin.
Three years later he’d be hearing his name called in the NFL Draft, spending his rookie season watching his teammates come up just short in the Super Bowl because of a knee injury.
Last night was his chance to make sure his team went back. And for 59 minutes and 50 seconds, anyone who knows ball will tell you he was one of the best players on a field that includes more than a few future Hall of Fame players.
On one play, he wasn’t the best version of himself, and he’s paying the price for that. Not only in the media and in the locker room, but he injured his knee on the play as well.
Some of you are mad at Joseph Ossai for his mistake. Being upset is natural. His own teammate, Germaine Pratt, was caught screaming “why would you touch the quarterback?” in the tunnel.
But some of you decided his error was a license for sending him messages, and calling him every name in the book, and wishing harm to his career, or even his body, for how his play affected you.
So let’s talk about you- the person who didn’t see the irony in lashing out at Joseph Ossai after the game was over, for his hit after the play was over.
How are you going to wish harm on somebody for their inability to handle the moment when YOU can’t?
And it’s not even your moment. He was the Man in the Arena. Not you.
While he sobbed on the sideline, and faced reporters in the locker room after the game, you were in your mom’s basement shouting so loud that she probably had flashbacks to the time you got in her face for not cutting the crust off your PB&J.
Championship sports is a high wire act. The amount that has to go right for someone to be in a position to make a mistake on this large of a stage is mind-boggling. And forget what has to go right, think about what had to go wrong.
Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane recently said that he doesn’t want to have to suck bad enough to end up with a guy like Ja’Marr Chase falling to him in the draft. And he brings up a good point. Think about everything that had to go wrong in the Bengals organization for things to start going right. The real fans of this team understand that, and know that the possibilities for redemption for a still 22-year old Joseph Ossai are plenty.
And those fans, those good and faithful Bengals fans that suffered through decades of lean years, will be there to lift Joseph Ossai up as they move into the future.
I feel sorry for the ones that are stuck in the emotion of the moment, that lashed out and said hateful things. Because for most Bengal fans, the sweet moments will be that much sweeter because of the times that were sour.
But when it’s the person that’s sour? Nothing will ever be sweet.
Let that sink in.
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