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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Freddie Miles, Unfilled Promises and Finding Happiness...

Good times; Miles #13 with QB Carl Sheffield...
Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote, "What you are is God's gift to you, what you become is your gift to God."  Of course, sometimes circumstances and environment dictate what kind of gift you can offer.

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through Facebook and came across a discussion that piqued my interest about a former high school classmate named Freddie Miles.

It started off with a photo and an innocent question asking, "Whatever happened to Freddie Miles?" and quickly snowballed into a full fledged and sobering exchange.

For those that don't know, Freddie Miles was one of the best running backs ever to come out of South Florida, and still is regarded among the top high school football players to ever to play in the region.

He was a high school All-American, who, along with teammates Carl Sheffield, Anthony Frederick and a staunch defense, led Miami Springs High (my alma mater) to two consecutive undefeated seasons in 1978 and 1979.

He was destined for greatness and many people saw him as a shoo-in to play major college football and possibly even the NFL.

In fact, before graduating from Springs, he signed a letter of intent to play for legendary college coach Howard Schnellenberger, who was coaching the University of Miami at the time.

Unfortunately, there was a problem.  Freddie's grades, and specifically his reading and writing skills were not college material.

It led him on a downward spiral that, according to the Facebook comments, was truly disheartening.

You see, at Miami Springs High, Freddie was the center of attention.  He had the girls.  He had more friends than he knew what to do with.  Administrators and teachers treated him with kid gloves.  Every major college and university was falling over themselves to recruit him. 

Why wouldn't they?  Despite his small stature, he was built like a rock, was athletic, had blazing speed and, as the Miami Herald put it, had "dazzling" moves that often left coaches, opposing players and fans dumbstruck.  High school defenders didn't have a chance against him when he had full head of steam or was running in the open field.  He ended up with incredible career and single season rushing and touchdown stats.

In other words, he was a legend in his own time.

Unfortunately, as often happens with superstar high school athletes, everybody around him, including parental figures, treated him as such.  He wasn't forced to play by the same rules as other students at Miami Springs.  He was protected.  He was coddled and, if he didn't want to go to class, well, he was urged to go (wink wink), but would often find himself in the coaches' office instead.  When he did go to class, one of the most vivid memories I have of him (being an impressionable sophomore at the time) was seeing him sleeping on a desk in the back of a classroom.  Yet, somehow, he was able to keep his grades high enough to be able to play each week.

Now, I'm sure it wasn't out of malice or ill will and, maybe, it was even out of love.  Coming from where Freddie came from, they may have thought football was his only chance in life. 

In fact, according to a childhood friend, Freddie practically raised himself without a mother or father in the rough streets of Brownsville in NW Miami, where crime and violence are part of the daily landscape.

Hence, when he most needed guidance, discipline and structure, he was left to his own devices.

Consequently, upon graduation, he couldn't play at UM and ended up going to play junior college football in California, where he bounced around from program to program, suffering injuries, disciplinary problems, frustration and, I'm sure, plenty of dejection along the way.

By 1982, the year I graduated from high school, he had played for four junior colleges and the University of Illinois, where he was suspended for "failure to adhere to the rules regarding training quarters" and was rehabbing in Miami.

After short stint at the University of Florida, in 1985, he was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, basically putting an end to his once promising playing career.  His great potential going unfilled.

Freddie in 2012...
A couple of years later, he was arrested for a serious crime and went to prison.  He has been in and out of trouble ever since.

Sadly, a former teammate that knew him well wrote on Facebook that he runs into Freddie from time to time, living on the streets of his old neighborhood; homeless and destitute.

The story really shook me.  For several days, I couldn't get the thought off my mind.

Here was a guy with all the God-given talent in the world and, because of misguided generosity on the part of the adults in his life and some wrong decisions, it was squandered; how very sad.

Several days later, I was preparing for a presentation on the Beatitudes for an adult catechism class, where I am a guest speaker, and Freddie Miles came to mind.  

I thought about what Freddie, like most of us, wants most out of life.  Some may say money, success and fame.  Others might suggest power, fulfilment, or love.  But, at the deepest level, the thing we all want most in life is happiness.  We want to be happy.

It's the reason we innately want to love and be loved, not just because our hearts supernaturally yearn for communion with God, who is love, but because the ultimate end of love is happiness.

The great early 20th century writer and philosopher, GK Chesterton, once wrote, "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God." (Not that I'm suggesting Freddie Miles of knocking at the door of a brothel!).

The Beatitudes (Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, where He said blessed are the poor, the meek, the humble, ect.) are God's roadmap, or "rules" if you will, for happiness.  Happiness that can only be attained through detachment from the feelings, people and things that we often think are most important. 

The majority of us think of freedom, and thus happiness, in terms of being able to do what we want when we want without restrictions, and that includes having the wealth to be able to do it, of course.

However, if we look at many of those that apparently have it all in life, we realize that all the wealth, fame, physical pleasures and power in the world, doesn't necessarily translate to happiness (think of Whitney Houston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Farley, or to a lesser extent Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and Mike Tyson, just to name a few). 

Some of the richest and most famous people are also the most conflicted, troubled, enslaved to vices and unfulfilled.

During his heyday, Freddie Miles probably had as much freedom as any high school student could have.  Considering his unfortunate home life and the way he was put on a pedestal at school, although he didn't have the wealth, he probably did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it.

Unfortunately, no one gave him what he most needed; discipline.

Contemporary theologian, Fr. Robert Barron, often talks about Michael Jordan in this context.  He says Michael Jordan, is arguably, the greatest basketball player of all time (outside of LeBron James since, Barron would say that, he is a priest in Chicago!). 

However, as the clergyman points out, did Michael Jordan play the way he wanted to play on the court?  Did he foul other players at random, take running starts at the basket without dribbling the ball, goof around with his friends all night and just show up to play?

No.  It took discipline.  He played by the rules of the game.  He practiced long hours, took endless foul shots, three-pointers, layups and free throws.  He studied film.  He took care of his body.  He listened to dozens of coaches throughout his lifetime and he learned from other great players.

Hence, the rules of the game, and his discipline gave him the freedom to be what he was meant to be.  The rules, the coaches and the referees helped unleash his true potential.

And, what can be more rewarding and make us happier than living up to our full potential?

It was something Freddie Miles wasn't able to.  He needed the rules; not just in football but in life.  The rules that would make him happy.

Then again, I may be looking at it all wrong.  Maybe, it's not as sad as I think.  It could be that through all his trials and tribulations, he found happiness.

Jesus says, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who suffer, the humble and the marginalized.  While we may never be able to imagine how someone rummaging through garbage can be happy, it could be, they are at peace.

In his classic book, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton describes a crossroad in his life, where he truly found peace.  He wrote, "For the first time in my life I realized that I no longer cared whether I preserved my place in all this or lost it... All that no longer mattered.  It was in the hands of One Who loved me far better than I could ever love myself:  and my heart was filled with peace.  It was a peace that did not depend on houses, or jobs, or places, or times, or external conditions... It was a peace that the world could not give."

It's about detachment as Jesus said, and if Freddie Miles has found that peace, then he may have more to offer God than I do...

In the words of Coldplay:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own


Edge said...

I too remember Freddie Miles,
Carlos, you have written a beautiful piece...
Michael Fullana

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you, Michael. I greatly appreciate your comment...

Anonymous said...

I saw him play a few times...he was amazing! Very good article. Thank you.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you. He truly was an amazing talent...

Juan Carlos Quesada said...

This type of article inspires me, I was the unknown student in 1978, 1979. I was transfer from a NY highschool to Miami springs and nobody knew me, felt so out of place but remember Freddy Miles and attended the football games which inspired me never give up on your dreams.......after I graduated in 1980 I also went to hell and back with alcohol and drugs, it took 15 years to over come with understanding my self and I live my dream of providing inspirational seminars in spanish in Latin America, I found my purpose and at peace with my self...a feeling that nothing in this world can provide...Thank you for this article..Juan Carlos Quesada

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you so much for your comments, Juan Carlos. I'm also glad to read of your turnaround and inspiration for others. May God bless you...

Anonymous said...

I was in junior high but my brother played at Hialeah at the time and saw Freddie play a couple of times. That was an amazing time in Hialeah and Miami Springs. I, too, often think about Freddie and always wondered what happened to him. Brownsville was a rough town back then and there were many kids like Freddie...saw it first-hand. This was an excellent story and I appreciate you telling it. I hope wherever Freddie is, that he has found God because ultimately, nothing else matters. Thanks, Carlos...God bless you.

p.s. My wife graduated from MSH in 1982 as well. Mercedes Molina...she was a low flyer. I went to Filer and graduated from Hialeah...Juan Valladares.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you, Juan.
If I had the courage I would go look for him to tell his story firsthand. I haven't gotten the nerve to doing that yet.
Pray for him and pray for me to get up that nerve!
God bless...

Lois Buckner said...

I graduated from Springs in 1980, and have thought about Freddie many times. Thank you for this article!

Henry Matthews said...

I'm from Brownsville and living in Atlanta. I never saw him play, but he's a legend in the sub (we call Brownsville brown sub or the sub). Go find him brother... I ask for all of the lost brother's who need to be found.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you,Lois. Thank you, Henry. You're right. We have to find him. I've been thinking about it for a while...