December 2, 2018

WANG | To Be Kyler Murray

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For some reason, on Saturday afternoon, I sat myself down to watch the University of Oklahoma and Texas football teams lock horns to determine the winner of the Big 12 Championship.  And even though I don’t know half the words I just typed thanks to my neophyte nature when it comes to college sports, and my disdain for football that largely stems from the abusive damage it lays on its players, I stayed sitting and watched. Because once in a while, you just have to see something exceptional.

Kyler Murray, who plays quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, is short for his position. He’s also one of the five most talented athletes in the world. With jets for legs and dart throwers for arms, he’s Hercules hammered in a 5’11’ height. On one play, he’s a threat to take it to the house; the next, he may fling a gorgeous throw to his waiting receivers.

He’s remarkable not because of these gifts on the football field but because it might not even be his best sport. This June, he was taken 9th overall in the MLB draft (something I’m much more comfortable with), and signed a contract for $5 million with the Oakland Athletics to play professional baseball. To football scouts, he can potentially be an exciting dual quarterback; To baseball scouts, he’s a future all-star outfielder in the making, blessed with premium athleticism. And before the college football season, it seemed like baseball would be the easy choice, because his potential as a football QB was limited by questions about his height and throwing accuracy. But so far, he’s been perhaps the best player in college football, and if not, he’s certainly the most entertaining. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered watching an hour of college football during finals season.

He’s also stirred a heavily passionate debate about where his true destiny lies. He can potentially excel in two sports; so which one should he excel in?

One of my friends was trying to convince me that football was the better option. There was better visibility for athletes, he argued, plus the fact that there wouldn’t be a need for grooming time in the minors that would be needed in baseball. There was a direct payoff, an immediate salary, a higher present value. As you can tell, he’s a business major.

And sure, to become a baseball player is like going through a professional school. Everyone wants to make it to the end; the only question is getting there. But to me, there was a degree of danger present on the gridiron not found on the baseball diamond. One misstep and he might tear his ACL. One unfortunate pileup of 300 lb lineman on him, and his career would be over. Football is a sport of precious moments; you might never know when it might be your last.

So I thought that was nonsense. It wasn’t even close. And with each heartbreaking discovery of traumatic brain injuries in passed football athletes, it’s clear the sport of football does not treat its players like Teflon; it crushes them and beats them, torments them and drugs them, and we cheer and clap, and they die a little inside each time.

But either way, there are young men on either coast who would kill for a chance to be in a position to be an NFL QB or an MLB outfielder. To have both in his hands is special. So it must be nice to be Kyler Murray right now. He has a good option, and an even better one. What could go wrong?

The parallels run deep here on campus. The people at Cornell can be an exercise in agony. Wherever you go, there’s someone in an existential crisis. For instance, there’s my pre-med friend, the one who’s been suplexing her competition for the past 2.5 years, but who’s still unsure medical school is worth the sacrifice. And so imagine fighting your way through gen chem, orgo and biochem for a 4.2 GPA, all the while knowing it might not even relevant to your future career path.

And she’s not an isolated case. As students, we fret endlessly over our futures. Is this the right field? Will it be stable in 20 years? Will it make us happy? And that might be the most important one. There’s my C.S. major friend who prefers screenplays over screensavers; she seems happier when discussing movies over bits. There’s my banking friend who’s unsure whether it’s really for him. And then there’s my hotel friend, who wonders if it’s all a bit too vacuous. Our career decisions are too important to mess up.

It’s hard to be happy; it’s even harder to know where to look for it.

Absurdly, I fell in love with fashion and cosmetics this semester; I started reading up on cosmetics for fun. And so I applied for a job at L’Oreal, because I figured, to enjoy my job, you have to work for something you enjoy. And so, foundation brush in hand, I went in to fulfill a long-running joke. I came to Cornell, to the AEM major, with a friend from my high school class. And it was so strange, so unexpected that someone who sat in the same high school classroom had ended up with me in the same major, that a joke started. What was next: Were we going to end up working for the same company?

As a matter of fact, we ended up applying to L’Oreal. And for a moment, absurdity almost became reality. And then it wasn’t funny, because I was stunned, and when I seemed like it would happen, I started to play the lottery because, really, what were the odds?

It didn’t happen though, because another company came in at the last minute out of nowhere, and I decided to go with it because it appealed more to me.  But it almost did, which is remarkable in itself. It proved as much to me that you never know what truly might happen; things are never so clear-cut. She ended up getting the job, and I’m thrilled for her because it’s something she’s happy to be a part of. And that’s really all that matters.

We can’t tell the future. We can’t control it, contort it, bend it to our liking. What happens, happens, and we have to live with our decisions. Kyler, as much as I envy him, has a certain cloud hanging over him his. If he fails in baseball, there will be a certain subset of people like my friend always asking “What if he had stayed with football?” It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of bitterness awaiting him if it does happen. The steep descent of star athletes is unbearable to watch. For his sake, I hope he finds stardom. For our sake, I hope we find happiness.

William Wang is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Willpower runs every other Monday this semester. He can be reached at [email protected].