I stood behind a pulpit in a church that I grew up in since the day I was born. I was dedicated just a few feet away. I was in several weddings over the course of my life in that very same church. I was the lead youth usher on youth Sundays. And twenty-four hours ago I stood behind that pulpit for the very first time as an ordained pastor preaching a sermon while eulogizing a loved one, my uncle Eric “The Flea” Allen, also known as “Easy” Eric Allen. I had just a few goals in mind, to honor my uncle, to comfort those in attendance during this time of grief (particularly my grandmother), and to magnify God most of all.
This was no easy task given the fact that he was family, but also my first sports hero, along with my other uncle, Nate Allen, who played in the NFL. Let me tell you just a little about “The Flea.” He was…
- Record holder of 9 Michigan State Football records, 4 Big Ten records and 2 NCAA records, including 350 rushing yards (371 all-purpose yards) in a single game in 1971 (still stands today)
- Big Ten MVP in 1971
- First Big Ten player to score over 100 points in a season in 1971 (18 touchdowns)
- Heisman Candidate (10th) in 1971
- Fourth Rd. draft pick in 1972 (Baltimore Colts)
- Canadian Football League for four years (WR)
Here are a few more articles on “The Flea” since learning of his passing…
Those were on the field accomplishments. They don’t tell the whole story though. I never had the privilege of watching him play ball, but I have seen the highlights and at the time I thought I was watching O.J. Simpson in his heyday running the ball. Uncle Bobby was one of the best to ever do it on the football field. What I did have the privilege of seeing in him was his example after football was over. I want people to understand that while we celebrate his athletic prowess, we was much more.
In the eulogy I shared three things that I learned from “The Flea.”
1) He was a man that always emphasized education. Just about every time I spoke with him he asked me about how I was doing in school and how important getting a degree was. It wasn’t about making a lot of money as much as it was about not being left behind, giving yourself a chance and making a positive impact on society.
2) He also valued black history. He wanted me to know where I came from. He was teaching the importance of knowing the truth about your roots and not the negative portrayals that might be shown in the media. He wanted me to know the greatness that came with being black. It may have been him (I often credited this statement to my grandfather) that told me, “You have to be twice as good and twice as prepared as your white counterparts just to get the same opportunities that they get.” He was right. He talked to me about sharpening my skills and developing my talents and gifts, but he also modeled for me what it meant to have a solid work ethic, something I also learned from my grandparents as well.
3) He was most importantly a Christian. Although he held several degrees and had many years of life experience, he was still learning. He got baptized a few years ago and that was the best news I could have ever heard. I was told how he was still eager and intent on learning about the Lord and the Christian faith, but he also wanted to do something with that faith to impact the next generation and his current community. He really was a disciple maker his whole life. We had several conversations where he even mentioned to me that he was thinking about going into ministry to preach the word. I did not take it as seriously because of his health and I wasn’t sure if he really knew what the call to pastor meant (so much more than just preaching on Sundays for sure), but he kept living as if he would beat this condition and one day would be able to pastor. So I encouraged him to do it if he felt that’s where he was being led.
Those three points together share a common theme, IDENTITY. He was continually affirming a sense of self-worth in a young man hoping to make his way successfully through the journey of life. Even in the last few years of his life he was still talking to me about education. He always took the time to sow a seed of affirmation into my life. For that I am forever grateful. I hope he saw a glimpse of the fruit of those seeds he planted in my life today.
We celebrated his life on Monday November 2, 2015. But it was hard for me to get the image out of my head of his last few months. He laid there bed-ridden, he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t eat on his on. That wasn’t “The Flea” that I had admired all my life. The legend I wanted to emulate as a kid. The culprit to his condition was head injuries from football. We’ve all heard the news of athletes like Junior Seau, Dave Duerson (Chicago Bears), and most recently Tony Dorsett formerly of the Dallas Cowboys. This issue in football is very real and affects more than just the athletes, it impacts the whole family and community of those who love them. For a brief read on Dorsett’s story and condition click the following link
Although I haven’t gotten all the details of his injuries, I do know this is what lead to the deterioration of his health and eventual passing. It was hard to watch (although from afar) over the past few years what seemed like a rapid advancement of the effects of the head trauma he sustained forty years ago.
So when we see athletes, particularly football players, holding out for more money or retiring early we shouldn’t be so quick to judge them negatively. They are one hit away from ending the career they worked so hard to build. There is no telling how expensive the medical bills will be when they are in their 50s and 60s and need around-the-clock nursing care from the countless concussions they received. Until you have seen the impact these head injuries can have on an athlete’s life and the family that has to witness the impact of those injuries and care for them, reserve judgment please. It was harder to watch him the last few years suffer the way he did, than it was to see him in the casket on Monday.
I went on a bit of a tangent, I know. I intended on simply introducing a legend, an All-American, a mentor, a community activist, a son, a brother, an uncle, a Christian, known as “The Flea.”