In “My Body, My Weapon, My Shame,” Elwood Reid reflects on his football career, commenting on several aspects of the twisted culture that football surrounded him with throughout high school and college. Although he doesn’t reveal it in his piece, most of the story takes place at the University of Michigan, where he donned the pads as an offensive lineman for the Wolverines. Reid comes to discover that playing football at Michigan is more than a big time commitment and a physical grind – there is a truckload of extra baggage that being a Division 1 athlete comes with. There is the constant pressure to please coaches and teammates – to become what they want. Reid discusses this in his story, opening up about the drudgery that he put himself through to fit their image. Specifically, how he destroyed his body for it, and how he put aside his individuality for the sake of becoming a “fella.”
Reid’s story is so powerful because it is revealing and honest. His depiction of the locker rooms he participated in, the parties he attended, and the practices he suffered through is shocking and painful to read. The sensory details in his writing allows the reader to feel each practice, and see each event in his story: “My arms dangle from my shoulders, bloodless and weak, forcing me to deliver the blows with my head and helmet. The coaches scream when I am slow to rise after the whistle. And when the pills wear off, the numbness is replaced by a hot poker of pain, and a dull, crunching sound in my neck.” As a reader, I was suddenly aware of my own joints and muscles as I sympathized with his frustrating physical toil. His tone is also matter-of-fact, letting the stark reality of his experience speak for itself.
In telling his own story, Reid also manages to shed light on several bigger issues: celebrity sports culture, mob mentality, gender norms in sports, and objectification of the body. Reid uses similes to illustrate how he felt about some of these issues, and about how he felt as a middle-of-the-road Big Ten football player, functioning as a mere cog in a larger than life operation. He recalls his recruiting experience when “college scouts…eyed me coming out of the shower as if I were a horse they might someday bid for at an auction.” Later, he describes the way his college coaches would “stand there looking at us the way a mechanic eyes his socket-wrenches, as tools to be picked up, used, and thrown aside.” Over time, Reid begins to objectify himself, referring to his own body as “it.” The similes here effectively depict the objectification of athletes by some of Reid’s coaches – they aren’t people, they are tools used for attaining victory, like pieces in a game of chess.
Reid’s story (linked below) resonated with me on many personal levels, but the feelings he portrayed and the struggles he painted are applicable to many different situations. The story is also eye-opening, casting a revealing light on something that is so idolized in our society. For my re-purposing project, I plan to reflect on my experience as a student manager and eventual walk-on player for the Varsity Basketball Team here at U-M. But in addition to telling my own story, I mostly want to comment on the sports culture at this school, which often troubles me. There are many parallels between my story and Elwood Reid’s. I hope that, using Reid as an example, I am able to relate to my audience, tell an interesting story, communicate something worthy of my reader’s time, and provoke some thought.