Professor Buckner stands at the head of the classroom as his students file in. The school bell rings, papers shuffle, pencils get sharpened, class is ready to begin.
“Class is now in session, gentlemen. Welcome to Psychology and Self-Preservation 101 – Overcoming the Choke Label and Finding the Path to Forgiveness. I am your professor, Bill Buckner.”
“Good morning, Mr. Buckner” shouts the class.
“Class,” continues the mustached man up front. “I’d like to welcome our two newest students, Mr. William Cundiff from Baltimore and of course you know Mr. Kyle Williams from San Francisco. They’ll be sitting in with us for the rest of the semester.”
“Oi, William!!! Oi, Kyle!!!” grunt the older classmates as if they were seasoned members of a local Rotary.
Williams and Cundiff nod their heads in response, uneasy about being in this class to begin with. They each secretly pray not to become lifers like so many in the room.
“Before we begin, gentlemen, I’d like to take roll call. 1992 Oilers?”
“I’m here, man.”
“Jean Van de Velde?”
“Wide right here.”
The class chuckles.
“Still haven’t seen him, teach. It’s been a while. Ya’ know, with the persistent death threats and all,” answers Norwood.
“I hear he had facial reconstructive surgery!” cackles O’Brien. The class laughs out loud. Williams and Cundiff gulp nervously.
“Fair enough, class, let’s begin. What, if anything, have we learned so far this semester that we can teach our new classmates?”
The class answers in unison. “It wasn’t our fault! These things happen! We’re lucky to be in the position we’re in to begin with! Forgiveness lies first within oneself, then within others! Only when we begin to forgive ourselves can we seek forgiveness elsewhere!”
“Very good, class,” commends Buckner. “Mr. Williams, Mr. Cundiff. What have you two learned in the last forty-eight to seventy-two hours? And remember, you’re among friends here. Please feel free to speak openly.”
“Well, sir,” begins Williams.
“Please, son, call me Bill.”
“Bill? I just learned that fans can sometimes be a little unfair, but that’s only because they care so much, sir… I mean, Bill. I can’t fault them for that. I mean, they’re the reason we all are in the position we’re in, good and bad. Another chance will come for me one day, a chance at redemption. I know it’s how I perform in that moment of truth that will define my legacy.”
“Well said, Mr. Williams. I can already see you have a leg up on the rest of the class. Class? What do we think about young Kyle’s mindset?”
Silence once again sets over the classroom.
“Class?” asks Professor Buckner.
“That it’s good?” murmurs Webber from the back of the room.
“Correct, class. That it’s good. Again, remember our mantra about forgiveness. We must first find it within ourselves. Do any of our seniors have anything they’d like to share with our new classmates?”
“Yeah, don’t go out in public!” quips one of the Oilers. The crowd laughs uneasily. Bartman’s conspicuous absence makes the comment all too real.
“What we try to learn here, gentlemen, aside from the importance of forgiveness, is the very essence of human nature. Why do fans delve so deeply into sports? Why do they become so rabid, so involved, that they become irrational, even violent, when a person they’ve never met before, affects them in a way they claim alters the course of their lives? That’s the wisdom we seek within these walls. When we seek forgiveness from strangers, we must ask ourselves why it is that we are doing so. It took me years to find that peace. Your journeys, Mr. Williams and Mr. Cundiff, begin today.”
The bell sounds. Lunch time. The Oilers quickly find the classroom door, battling to be first in line at the cafeteria. Van de Velde and Norman grab their things and head to the driving range. Williams and Webber gather their belongings and follow suit out the door.
Norwood places an apple on the teacher’s desk before leaving.
“Any questions, gentlemen?” asks Professor Buckner one last time.
“No, I think we’re good,” respond both Cundiff and young Kyle.
“It’s a long road back but knowing you’re not alone in this process will help you through the difficult times. Stronger men have been there before and survived. Others have failed. The path you choose is up to you.”
“Thank you, professor. We look forward to the challenge.”
The three walked out of the room and shut the door behind them.