Sarah Fuller’s kick was an unexpected emotional moment

I woke up today and knew it was going to be one of those days — antsy, hopeless, the days you hope the crying comes sooner rather than later so you can just get on with it.

But I hadn’t cried in ages.

Not since the day before my uncle died on Oct. 16. Didn’t cry at the viewing. Didn’t cry at the funeral. Didn’t cry when I spoke. Not like the kid in the meme, holding back a flood, or like a pipe trying not to burst. I was begging myself to cry, to “process” this the “right” way. I was reading about grief, talking to people, getting as close as I ever get to “open.”

But I’ve been an empty vessel. I try, and nothing.

Our bodies protect us, I guess. But the day comes when they have to betray us.

Maybe today would be the day where everything rushed in. Maybe it was just my period. No one ever really knows what’s going on with themselves. I just knew I didn’t have it in me to rinse and repeat another day inside the same four walls, staring at the same dreary snow. There was nothing in my cup and I couldn’t fill it up with yoga or meditation or any of the quotes on the bulletin board in my makeshift office. No Brené Brown or Erik Spoelstra or Audre Lorde or Leo Tolstoy would — wait, Tolstoy: “The only fundamental obligation of man is to be in tune with life.”

OK, not bad. That one gave me an approximation of a feeling. I guess I’ll find out what’s going on today, I thought. I’m in no mood for it, but I guess I’ll watch this Sarah Fuller person make history. Let’s just see what happens.

So I pulled up the video. I watched her put up her hand, like she was taking an oath. I don’t watch much football, so I didn’t know what that meant — if anything — but she looked like she was taking command, and I knew she was doing it somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be.

And then she kicked it — apparently kicked it the way she was supposed to. Then she went to the mic and told me I could do anything I set my mind to, that I really can, as long as I have that mentality all the way through. I thought about how true and untrue that was.

The world tells everyone what’s what at some point, but I think it’s useful to fill up your cup with the illusion that it won’t. I come from an exceptionally arrogant family. I love that about us.

Sports are great fuel for that kind of confidence. I decided to learn more about Fuller, so I opened up a few stories on my laptop.

But like pretty much anything else these days, you have to squint a little, suspend yourself from reality, in order to feel inspired. When it works, it’s like a defibrillator to the heart. Nothing like it. When it doesn’t, it feels fledgling, even sickening. To watch sports this year has been to constantly toggle back and forth between cynicism and wonder.

I cover basketball. Like anything you really dig into, it’s beautiful and fascinating and there’s always so much to learn. Basketball is perpetually evolving, escaping the understanding of all who follow it and live in its boundaries, flabbergasting us by rarely taking us where we think it’s going to go. That’s the stuff right there. But squinting has been harder this year.

Sarah Fuller #32 of the Vanderbilt Commodores kicks off in the second half against the Mizzou Tigers at Memorial Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Columbia, Missouri.
Vanderbilt's Sarah Fuller kicks off in the second half against the Mizzou Tigers at Memorial Stadium on November 28, 2020, in Columbia, Missouri. (Zach Bland/Mizzou Athletics via Getty Images)

Sarah Fuller only kicked that ball because, like every sport, the ritual that Americans refer to as football could not — would not — hit pause for a pandemic, because, well, that would simply be un-American. If you take “American” for what it actually means, that’s true. She kicked it because one kicker decided football wasn’t worth the risk, and another came in to contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and had to quarantine, which just so happens to be the exact scenario I’m in right now (we’re all fine, as of right now).

Then again, it’s not the only reason. Fuller also kicked that ball because she tried out and was good enough. The moment came the way most good things do: one gleaming thing poking out of a smorgasbord of epic bulls---, an icicle to hang onto while the avalanche continues.

Then a video started auto-playing. “This morning, hospitals sounding the alarm as ICU’s reach record highs for the 17th day in … ”

That’s as far as it got before I rushed to find the tab and close it like I was playing whack-a-mole with a laptop touchpad.

And then I just sat there and the tears finally, mercifully rolled out. I thought about all the things I can’t control, from the onslaught of new grief that is meeting us all every day to the fact that I probably won’t make a pocket-pass off the pick-and-roll for months; from the tension that just will not recede from my eyebrows to the fact that I don’t know how to help my parents, don’t know how to help myself.

And then I looked up.

Another Tolstoy quote on the bulletin board: “The role of an artist is not to resolve a question irrefutably but to compel one to love life in all its inexhaustible manifestations.”

Sarah Fuller’s kick likely isn’t going to change the world. It is not a reason for optimism, nor is it a harbinger of progress. But on Saturday, Nov. 28, her laces hit rubber, sent the ball 35 yards to the right, and in doing so, she gave birth to an astounding work of art.

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