This world is a paradox. The 10 days I spent in Indianapolis were a dream. As a young journalist who has never covered the events leading up to a Super Bowl—or anything big, for that matter—it was the coolest experience of my short journalism career.
At first, it was surreal. New England owner Bob Kraft next to you on the escalator. ESPN personality Chris Berman interviewing the same guy you are. Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin spotting your pink and cream argyle sweater through his shades, pointing, and saying, “Nice look, bro.” (Dead serious. It happened.)
Everywhere you turn—whether it was Media Day at Lucas Oil Stadium or Radio Row at the JW Marriott—there were players, celebrities and national media personnel. And not just that, but they were easily accessible. You want to talk to someone? Just go up and shake their hand. Want to interview someone? Just ask a question.
It was as if every celebrity and every person of some “importance” in the NFL world were all dropped into a tiny fish tank. And for some odd reason, you’re the little guppy that gets to swim around with them.
One day, it hit me. Media Day was over, the first day of Radio Row was complete, and I had just pulled into the parking garage at the JW Marriott. Literally, the first person I saw and talked to that day was none other than former star running back Eddie George. I real- ized something: This is the social and media epicenter of the entire sporting world. And I’m here.
What I experienced, however, wasn’t as glamorous as you’d think. Yes, I stuffed my face with coconut shrimp at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Party. And yes, I cleaned out my sinuses with free samples of St. Elmo’s world fa- mous horseradish in the Marriott.
But when you’re in a situation like that—surrounded by so many people who have been deemed “successful”—you also see the world for what it really is. It’s deceivingly glamorous yet manipulative, seemingly fulfilling yet empty, and supposedly exuberant yet exhausting.
My friend, author of the The Jersey Effect Hunter Smith, was quoted in the Indianapolis Star that week saying, “Success is to be endured more than enjoyed.”
As the week went on, that truth rang true more and more. Success is to be endured more than enjoyed. It’s a bottomless pool. You plunge deeper, deeper, deeper, thinking you’ll find meaning, but in the end, you’ll only suffocate.
I saw a lot of “successful” people who were suffocating. I saw a lot of people who were delving deeper, oblivious that they’d eventually run out of air. The selfishness. The self-promotion. The bustling. The grind. It became annoying. Monotonous. Even exhausting.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I don’t have a problem with “successful” or famous people (most of them were actually extremely nice), and I’d sacrifice a kidney to have that experience again. It was amazing. I’ll always remember praying in the parking garage with my colleague before the Media Day festivities, asking the Lord to open doors so we could talk to athletes about matters beyond football. God answered that prayer.
But as I stood outside and observed the fish tank—as Deion Sanders walked by with his posse, aviators on, his jacket flapping, as businessmen made pitches to prominent athletes hoping to take a piece of them for their own benefit, as (gulp) I threw my credentials around my neck, shook hands, and felt important—I realized that this was the world. And though it was tempting, though it was exhilarating— at the end of the day, all I wanted was to worship the God I loved and be with the people I loved. You see the celebration, but it’s only for a second. You know life so you see the decay (Mumford & Sons). You aim for earth, and you miss out on heaven (C.S. Lewis).
We’re called to approach this world from another angle—to recognize the paradox. The glamour, the fame, and the high life are mere façades of happiness. And despite the joy, thrill and dozens of stories that came from the trip, I left with two simple lessons: One, the world is empty; so don’t invest in it. And two, wear the pink and cream argyle sweater.
This column was published in the February 2012 DigiMag. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.