There is symmetry, then there is what we witnessed Sunday in the NFL.
First we saw beauty, with Washington quarterback Alex Smith returning to the field for the first time in 693 days -- since sustaining a gruesome leg injury and post-surgery infection that threatened the use of his leg, then his life. Hearts fluttered as his family, wearing ponchos on a soggy afternoon, stood and clapped as Smith jogged onto the field against the Rams, replacing the injured Kyle Allen.
A few hours later, we saw horror, with Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott appearing to dislocate his ankle after a Giants tackler rolled on it. Hearts broke. Tears fell. Prayers went up, just as they had on Nov. 18, 2018, when Smith's leg snapped as he was sacked.
Too often we forget the human element in professional sports. We place so much importance on the outcome of games that the players' health -- physical and psychological -- becomes background noise to a chorus of hot takes. It ain't right, but I get it.
Then we see Prescott's right foot pointing in a direction it was never meant to point in. Then we see tears in not only his eyes, but those of the players around him and fans in the stands. Then we see his current head coach, Mike McCarthy, and his head coach from the previous four seasons, Jason Garrett, now the offensive coordinator with the Giants, standing over him as medical personnel do their jobs. And suddenly, football becomes less important -- unless you are someone who sees Prescott and other athletes as pawns in a larger game.
It was mystifying that some would bring up his contract situation before the cart escorting him from the field even reached the tunnel. Yes, he passed on signing an under-market multiyear deal in favor of a one-year contract that would allow him to be a free agent again next offseason. He bet on himself and was off to a historic start only to get hurt and possibly jeopardize future earnings. But can't that conversation wait at least a day?
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Empathy seems to be in short supply in society, as well as sport. One positive is the outpouring of support from active and retired players, who reached out on social media.
The outpouring of support is not surprising, considering how respected Prescott is. He carries himself with class, always accentuating the positive and pointing out where he can be better. He often thinks about others before thinking about himself, even publicly disclosing last month that he had battled depression and anxiety during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, which happened to coincide with his brother's death by suicide.
Prescott could have kept it private, but he wanted to highlight the importance of mental health. He arrived for Sunday's game wearing a black face mask that had "Break the Stigma" in white print on one side. The message, in essence: Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
My guess -- and it's just a guess -- is that Prescott was thinking more about his team than his injury as he left the field. The Cowboys ended a two-game skid Sunday with a 37-34 victory, assuming sole possession of first place in the NFC East, despite a 2-3 record. Whether Dallas goes on to win the division or make the playoffs with Andy Dalton starting in place of Prescott seems unimportant at the moment.
"It sucks. Yeah it sucks," running back Ezekiel Elliott said after the game. "I know we won; it just sucks to lose Dak, our leader. And I was talking to the guys and it's going to take all of us. It's going to take all of us to fill that void that we're going to be missing from [No.] 4. Just gotta go out there and play for him."
In the hours that followed, my mind kept going back to one image -- not the injury, but the cart ride. To Prescott wiping away tears, then kissing his right fist and pointing his index finger to the sky. One moment he was there, the next he was gone, off to the hospital for surgery on the ankle. A game had been played, and yet it felt like there was no winner. Like we all had lost.