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Home Isn’t Safe

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Tommy Elrod, a Wake Forest lifer, put a personal agenda ahead of everything he’d ever known, and I’m having trouble understanding why.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The world is a scary place. Regardless of your opinions on how we got here and where may be the best place to go, I think we can all agree about that. Shootings, racial tensions, a political climate more like a reality show than civilized discourse, and a country set terrifyingly like a powderkeg are all realities we face every day. For most of us, climate change is an oncoming train. The world abroad is torn by war. Children in the Middle East and Africa fear guns and bombs slicing through playgrounds. But there’s one thing that makes pretty much all of us forget all of that for an hour or three: sports. When we’re watching those games, be they football, basketball, soccer, or anything else, we’re not concerned about who is President, or who isn’t President, or why those people are so mad about who the President is, or why the world can be such a horrible place and why we can’t just unite as humans. For that time, we DO unite as humans, and we eat, we cheer, we get drunk, we sing and dance. We forget.

I graduated Wake Forest in 2009. I was a sophomore the year we had the championship season. When we shut out FSU 30-0, I lived off campus at the time and drove to campus with my alumnus dad and my mom in tow to roll the quad in the pouring rain. And someone associated with the program then, with that title, five years later, would begin a seemingly one-man campaign to sabotage the very same. It wasn’t a dissatisfied player, nor a transplant from another program. The man choosing to make these harmful and baffling decisions was one of our own, and a man associated with the program since I was in the first grade.

Why? The obvious answer is bitterness over not being retained, or perhaps even some twisted idea of loyalty to Jim Grobe. Whatever the case, this is a man who threw away everything. He’s banned for life from Wake Forest Athletics. He was fired from IMG College. He’ll almost certainly never get another job in athletics again. And for what? To stick it to Dave Clawson and/or Ron Wellman? Out of sheer blind anger? I have no idea, because every time I put myself in that mindset, or even try to, my brain short circuits. I love Wake Forest, and even if it was a school I loathe athletically or even ethically, I’d know my role and realize that some bizarre form of vigilante “justice”, even if cathartic, is foolish, pointless, and likely to bite me.

Sports are fun. Sports are an escape. Sports are family. Sports are unity. Sure, there’s the agony of losses. Sure, we may argue about whether Bryant Crawford is a showoff, or if John Wolford deserves to start, or if soccer is dumb and we hate it because really, a title decided on penalty kicks? But in the end, we’re family. And even if we’re interacting with other families we can’t stand, for the most part sports are sports. If a Duke grad was being mugged, I’d stop the thief and stay with the victim as long as needed, because sports hate isn’t real hate. Sports are sports.

I’m not going to make it sound like this is some scandal on the level of Penn State or Baylor, and forget about it mattering as much as a terrorism attack, a war, or a child with cancer or anything like that. Here’s the thing I struggle with, though. It wasn’t about sports for Tommy Elrod. It was personal. It was bitter. It was angry. For whatever reason, Tommy Elrod made sports more than they were in a negative way, and poisoned them with some sort of twisted, misguided grudge.

Wake Forest is my home. Sports are a home of sorts as well, an oasis from the ugliness of the real world. But Tommy Elrod attacked that home. It was relatively insignificant, really. The part that disturbs me is that something could happen to twist a man so much as to make him attack not only a haven from the world’s evils, but his OWN home. And now, Tommy Elrod has no home to return to, and that saddens me. It saddens me partly for Tommy Elrod, but especially because, for a couple of years, home wasn’t safe. Family wasn’t family. Home wasn’t worth holding onto. It will take a long time for me to not, even for a moment, remember that even in sports, home isn’t always safe.