For the mainstream devotee of the National Football League, the majority of their entire knowledge on the game and how the whole business side works comes from media outlets and opinions of writers who are still bitter about never making it as an athlete. Unfortunately, this is clearly reflected in the fickle emotions, high expectations and world’s lowest toleration for mistakes of a typical fan. Today, I sneak you behind the scenes and share the other side of the game and the experience for the majority of the 1,986 players in the NFL.
A Birmingham “Bama boy”, Simeon Castille knows first hand how the NFL structure works. I am maybe a little biased as his wife to think he is a local favorite, but Simeon played cornerback at Briarwood here in Birmingham and then at Alabama, where his father Jeremiah Castille was an All-American who went on to play for the Tampa Bay Bucanneers and Denver Broncos. Simeon’s brother Tim played fullback at Alabama and then for the Arizona Cardinals, and his little brother Caleb is a freshman, playing football for the Crimson Tide. Word has it on the street; they are the city’s favorite football family.
Simeon was a high school All-American at Briarwood Christian, and first team All- SEC at Alabama. But all those accolades mean nothing at the next level, and all those years as a star make the struggle that much harder.
The short version: Simeon was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008, and was picked up by the San Diego Chargers in 2009. In 2010, he spent a year with the UFL’s Florida Tuskers, before trying to make the move up again. All the details that go in between with our moves around the country, all the hype and all the let down make it so much more important to keep persevering.
Just finishing his fourth camp in the NFL, this time with the Minnesota Viking’s, he actually felt this was exactly where he was supposed to be. From the personal connections with the coaches, to the management and how well the organization was run, Simeon felt right at home. He was rotating with the first and second string and starting on three of the special teams, excited about this year and finally finding a team who noticed talent and was ready to give him a shot.
Second week into the season, during a scrimmage, he sprinted to a ball and strained his hamstring. This injury took longer to heal than the trainers had suggested, longer than he and the coaching staff was hoping for. Missing the first two preseason games and almost three weeks of practice caused tension between decision makers and the Viking’s cut their newest play maker.
From the fans’ perspective, it’s obvious that when a player is cut, he is evidently not capable of playing that position or did not perform to the best of his ability. The reality is, business is business and in any job, if they are forced to “make cuts”, and you haven’t gotten a chance to establish yourself as an asset in the company quick enough, you get the boot.
For Simeon and I, Sunday morning’s phone call was devastating because we knew in our hearts this was the team we were suppose to be at. Sounds stupid, but when you have a peace in your heart, you’ve got to live like it. We packed everything and labeled our bags and boxes, either “Minnesota fall” or “spring 2012” so we knew what we were bringing north. I think about all the connections and people we had already linked up with and excited about all the opportunities for so much more than just the football. I snagged a few Vikings shirts, and was also asked to sing the National Anthem at a game. Oh, so bitter, but so sweet when you learn to lean on each other and believe there is something better coming.
“Most people don’t think about the thirty-something guys who get cut during camp, but it’s reality,” Simeon tells me. Assuring me of hope, in his quiet strength says, “I’m not the only one going through this, nor is this our first time to have to go through this. It’s never easy, but we can’t dwell on the past, or we’re going to miss out on what the future holds.”
Life happens and you’ve got to keep rolling with it. Simeon and I both know how to keep ourselves busy, making the best of our time while here in Birmingham waiting for a door to swing open. He continues to train, work with inner city ministries and helps me with all my endeavors including my inspiring t-shirt and accessory company for girls, iammermaid LLC and powerful website for ladies, mrssonshine.com. We understand that living out of a suitcase and being ready to get up and go at any second is just a part of the job. Most of our friends have, or are going through similar situations and this is reality for the majority of the league. Real glamorous huh?
I heard Simeon share with someone, “this is a part of our life story right now. All our stuff we own is in storage, or in a family members garage. It doesn’t make any sense to rent a place, move in it, and six months later have to move everything back out. So we just kind of float around and are thankful for the love and support we get from our families and friends.”
Yes, we are thankful, and until we find a “home team”, we just have to be ready whenever the time comes, but while we’re here, we will make the best of our time. “ Hopefully for one of our hometown favorites, or mine anyway, we will hear some good news soon. Until then, be the best fan you can be and consider the fact that all those guys behind the big burly masks, they are people just like you, chasing a dream. Chances are, you probably don’t know them personally, but even greater chances that they are more like you than you realize. Oh, and all those perceptions of the typical NFL wife, well, you know now that there are some with a heart to change the world.
Keep cheering us on! Haley Hunt Castille writes for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com