In Defense of Kirk Herbstreit

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I’ve been critical of Kirk Herbstreit, the analyst for ESPN’s College GameDay. My problem wasn’t personal. It was petty. I always thought that Kirk was biased toward the team he once played for, the Ohio State Buckeyes. I hate the Ohio State Buckeyes. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that we’re all biased. If I had Kirk’s job, 15 minutes of every episode of College GameDay would be devoted to the Georgia Bulldogs. And ESPN’s ratings would tank.

Something else has happened with age. And I’m not just referring to my age.

I’ve realized that Kirk Herbstreit is an example of what it means to be a man.

Herbstreit and Coach Lee Corso have been analysts for College GameDay since the show’s beginning. Herbstreit has always come to the table with the expertise that comes with having played quarterback for a major college football program. Corso always brought a level of goofiness to the show. But it wasn’t too much. Even when the old coach picked against our team, we all still loved him. Not everyone would admit it, but Corso has always been a big reason why we keep tuning back in every Saturday in the fall.

In 2009, Corso, who is now 81, had a stroke. He spent a significant amount of time in the hospital and rehab. He made it back to his spot in front of the camera by the next football season. And he’s still there, putting on mascot headgear and firing up fanbases all across the country.

But he’s not the same.

Coach Corso’s timing is a little off. He gets confused. He stumbles over words. He looks, well, like a guy in his 80s who had a stroke a few years ago. Our culture frowns upon that sort of thing. We prefer the young and unblemished over the old and wrinkled. The old and wrinkled have a way of reminding us of where we’re all headed.

A few weeks ago, I watched College GameDay with my kids. Coach Corso was having a hard time saying what he wanted to say. It was like his mind and his mouth weren’t in tune with each other. That week’s celebrity guests even gave him a little grief for his frequent verbal fumbles.

It was hard to watch.

But as I paid closer attention, I saw the beauty in what was happening.

While I was listening to what Corso was trying to say, I couldn’t help but notice what he was doing. He and Kirk Herbstreit, the former college football quarterback and current ambassador of the game, were holding hands with each other. If you’ve ever had to talk on TV, you know that losing your train of thought for a split second feels like three hours. It’s brutal.

Kirk was lending his hand to the aging coach to remind him that it was okay. He wasn’t alone. And when the words just wouldn’t come out, Herbstreit was there to fill in the blanks. Or offer a gentle correction.

There are plenty of men who can run fast and lift a lot of weight but who don’t know what it really means to be a man. Kirk Herbstreit seems to know. God didn’t design men to be strong as an end in itself. The strength he gave to men is meant to serve those whose strength is fading.

Christians talk a lot about respecting life. Usually, we’re referring to the unborn when we talk that way. That’s a good thing. But it’s not the whole story. Respecting life also involves caring for the young adult who has to dodge bullets on his way to work. And it refers to serving those who have been around for the better part of a century and who aren’t what they used to be. Sort of like Kirk Herbstriet has been doing every Saturday since Lee Corso’s stroke.

Kirk Herbstreit likes Ohio State. It’s obvious.

But Kirk Herbstreit loves and respects Lee Corso. That’s even more obvious.

And for that, I’ll always be a fan of the former Ohio State quarterback.

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