September 23, 2010
While the Argonauts and Eskimos are practicing in Moncton in advance of Sunday's Touchdown Atlantic game, at least one Toronto player's mind is partially diverted elsewhere. Argonauts' running back Cory Boyd (pictured above stretching before an Aug. 14 game against Montreal) lost a good friend and former teammate earlier this week when Denver Broncos' wide receiver Kenny McKinley died in an apparent suicide. Boyd spoke to Dan Ralph of The Canadian Press today about what he's going through and his decision to stay with the Argonauts this week, and the resulting piece is a compelling read:
"‘Numb, trying not to think about it,' Boyd said in an interview Thursday. ‘It's sad but at the same time, I know I have to be here with my teammates, just to be around comfort.'"
It's perhaps a bit surprising that Boyd chose to stay with the team during what's supposed to be a joyous week-long celebration of Canadian football, as his mind must be at least on his family-his wife Brittany was one of those who discovered McKinley's body-and the loss of his friend. However, when you read Ralph's account of the stunning list of horrific events Boyd has already had to deal with at the age of 25, it's understandable why he sees football as a support network.
"McKinley's death is just another tragic chapter in Boyd's young life.
He grew up in a housing project in Orange, N.J., and his mother, a single parent, became involved in dealing drugs. She later went to prison and died there of a heart attack. Boyd was raised by his grandmother.
When Boyd was in high school, his girlfriend was shot and killed. His cousin also died in his arms after being shot."
A tragedy like the McKinley situation is difficult enough for even casual football observers to deal with. It must be a hundred times tougher for his friends and teammates, and tougher still for those like Boyd who have already suffered so much loss. Yet, in addition to the negative lights it sheds on particular aspects of football, such as injuries and their effects, and the questions it raises about mental health and concussions in professional sports, McKinley's death might also just show us the bright side of football and the support network it can provide.
Boyd isn't the only one seeking comfort from teammates in the wake of this calamity. It's the third death of a young Broncos' player in four years, and that team's understandably trying to rally together in the wake of McKinley's loss. Football's full of cliches and speeches that we on the outside sometimes write off, but many football players do develop close connections to their teammates; much of the game is about sacrificing your own body to help the team succeed, and that leads to the formation of some significant bonds. Maybe it's best for the Broncos to stick together and get back to work, and for Boyd to be around his own support network with the Argonauts. This isn't going to be an easy time for any of them, and perhaps their teammates can provide some comfort and reassurance.
The Toronto organization deserves full credit for letting Boyd make the decision on what to do, though. Here's what head coach Jim Barker said to Ralph about his conversation with Boyd:
"'I told him to go home if he had to, stay with his family here if he had to, just do what you have to do,' Barker said. ‘The one thing I did say is he's such a strong man that there's a reason why God put him into this position because of his ability to be able to handle that. Sometimes we wonder why is it always happening to us and I got the feeling he almost felt that way.'
'He's a special, special man and he's here in Moncton spending a lot of time with kids. When I see him I get chills because he's such a great, great person.'"
Boyd is unlikely to play this week, both thanks to the impact of this and the concussion he suffered two weeks ago that's still bothering him. The Argonauts are absolutely making the right call not to rush him back even from a strictly on-field perspective, as concussions are an incredibly serious injury that often don't even fully heal with time. When you take the emotional trauma he's dealing with into account as well, there's no good reason to try and have him play, and it looks like the team will give him the time he needs to recover both physically and mentally.
It's great to see that Toronto's giving Boyd the support he needs to deal with this situation. Yes, he's an outstanding player on the field, and he's perhaps more responsible than anyone else for their surprising success so far this year. Despite the strong performance of their other running backs last week against Winnipeg, the Argonauts will definitely miss Boyd's presence on the field Sunday. It's important to remember that he's more than just a star running back, though; he's a 25-year-old man dealing with the loss of a close friend, the latest in a long series of personal tragedies, and he's also battling one of the worst injuries in football. The Argonauts' treatment of Boyd's situation so far speaks well for their organization, and it suggests that they care about the long-term physical and mental health of their players as well as just fielding a strong lineup each week.