By Sabrina Bartels
Confession: I love football season. I don’t know if it’s because football usually means fall (my favorite season) or if my dad’s zealous attitude towards football has rubbed off on me. Maybe it’s a combination of both! Either way, I look forward to it. To me, a perfect fall day consists of football on TV, paninis on the stove, and a fire in the fireplace.
In addition to loving the sport of football, I love hearing some of the wonderful things football players do in their free time. I’m sure most people have seen JJ Watt on commercials for American Family Insurance, or have heard about DeAndre Hopkins donating school supplies to students in his hometown. For me though, the best thing I heard was about Florida State University football player Travis Rudolph.
If you haven’t heard the story, several FSU football players were visiting a middle school in Tallahassee. During the visit, Rudolph noticed a child eating by himself in the lunchroom. After grabbing food, Rudolph asked if he could sit with the student, who said yes. Someone snapped the photo of the two, and sent it to the boy’s mother.
Her Facebook post is inspirational and definitely tugs at the heartstrings. She started by saying:
Several times lately I have tried to remember my time in middle school, did I like all my teachers, do I even remember them? Did I have many friends? Did I sit with anyone at lunch? Just how mean were kids really?
She then talks about how her son is autistic. She said that while it can be overwhelming and scary to have him in middle school, she is sometimes “grateful” for his autism because it protects him from how harsh middle school can be.
He doesn’t seem to notice when people stare at him when he flaps his hands. He doesn’t seem to notice that he doesn’t get invited to birthday parties anymore. And he doesn’t seem to mind if he eats lunch alone. It’s one of my daily questions for him. Was there a time today you felt sad? Who did you eat lunch with today? Sometimes the answer is a classmate, but most days it’s nobody. Those are the days I feel sad for him, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
Finally, she talked about how she felt when she heard about Travis Rudolph eating lunch with her son.
A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today and when I saw it with the caption “Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son” I replied “who is that?” He said “FSU football player,” then I had tears streaming down my face. Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver at Florida State, and several other FSU players visited my son’s school today. I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes.
This made me smile for so many reasons. For the past few years, my school has been working on providing resources for students who are autistic. I have been working a little more closely with my students who have autism, and it has really opened my eyes to the struggles they have on a daily basis. Some students who have autism miss social cues. Some do not understand how to enter a conversation, or struggle to maintain a conversation. It breaks my heart when middle school students make comments or tease them, not knowing how hard it can be for them.
But it also made me smile because it showed how powerful one person can be. Just by sitting and eating pizza with a young boy, Travis Rudolph showed the world that he is a hero for more than just playing football. He is a hero for showing a little love and compassion to another human being. He is a hero for remembering what it’s like to be in middle school, and how harsh it can feel to not have anyone sitting with you.
So today, go sit with someone who is sitting alone. Reach out to someone who may not have a lot of friends. Do the right thing, and you can be a hero just like Travis Rudolph!