Sports Opinion

Overcoming Adversity: The Story of the Washington Football Team

The first thing that pops into my mind when I reflect on the past year is the adversity we have had to overcome. In a similar vein, one of the first thoughts that comes to the minds of football fans when thinking about overcoming adversity is the Washington Football Team (WFT). The WFT and the people associated with the team had a particularly complicated journey throughout the year, fighting more than just the global pandemic. Nonetheless, the team found a way to sneak into the NFL Playoffs. But why was the team’s journey so difficult? How did the team overcome this adversity?

Earlier this season, the team released quarterback Dwayne Haskins, the 15th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft and future of the team, after he was found breaking Covid-19 protocols multiple times. A team’s first-round pick, especially a quarterback, parting ways with the team after only a season and a half is devastating to the organization. But Haskins’s conduct also shed negative light on the team because he was seen maskless at a strip club after a loss, showing his little devotion to the team and reflecting poorly on the discipline and mentoring of the WFT.

Even through the troubled times, though, two people from the WFT embodied the team’s fight in 2020: Alex Smith and Ron Rivera.

Alex Smith, who took over as quarterback when Haskins was released, had sustained a serious injury after being sacked in 2018. He suffered a compound fracture that broke his right fibula and tibia. The situation became deadly when an infection developed at the site of the injury, causing sepsis. Doctors told Smith that he might succumb to the infection, but he fought through 16 surgeries and months of rehab. Smith is now leading the team on a playoff run and is the frontrunner for the NFL’s comeback player of the year. Oh, and he is doing all of this with a titanium rod inside his leg. 

Ron Rivera, Washington’s newly hired head coach, was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in his lymph nodes this past summer. He told reporters that he even requested an IV at halftime of Washington’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles this past September. And although Rivera stated that the cancer was very treatable, this news must have been a disappointment for the Football Team’s front office because at any moment Rivera’s condition could have worsened, leaving the team without a leader. But just as Alex Smith fought to walk again, Rivera fought the cancer. His seven weeks of treatment ended this past October and he rang the bell, signaling that he had defeated cancer.

The truth about this story is not that Rivera and Smith were gifted with the ability to overcome adversity; it is a story about extraordinary mindsets. These two people are not much different from you or me, but what sets them apart is their fighting mentality. Alex Smith likely wanted to show his young children that anything is possible, rather than just telling them. Ron Rivera likely wanted to continue coaching alongside a group of players and staff that he truly loved being around. And the pair undoubtedly wanted to compete for the chance to do what they love and show the world that no matter the obstacle, nothing is truly impossible.

This mindset is powerful. It spread from Alex Smith and Ron Rivera to the rest of the team, coaching staff, and fans. Right now, the team has another obstacle in front of them: the NFL Playoffs. If any team has something to prove at the moment, it’s the 7-9 Washington Football Team. A sports team that overcame so much adversity with a mindset as strong as Smith’s or Rivera’s is a formidable sight. Even if they don’t beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they will still have accomplished more than most of the playoff teams and will be motivated for the 2021 season.

If Washington can teach us anything, it should be that nothing is impossible (as cliché as it sounds) because, with a mindset as strong as titanium, one becomes an unstoppable force.