The 2023 NFL season is here, but before we shift into full fan mode, let's take one more minute to look back at the people and not the players. The perfect example of this is Tennessee Titans cornerback, Caleb Farley whose short NFL career has been marred by tragedy.
In a day and age when sports media focuses its narrow lens on debate, rankings, and stats, it's easy to lose sight of the person behind each and every player. However, the people who play football are the ones who sacrifice so much to make the game so special.
With a fanbase as passionate as the Tennessee Titans, I must admit that we are often guilty of being overly critical of the players on our beloved team.
Ever since the Tennessee Titans selected him with the 22nd pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Caleb Farley has been the victim of some of this harsh criticism.
Caleb Farley's family tragedy
On Tuesday, August 22nd, Caleb Farley’s recently purchased house in Iredell, North Carolina exploded, killing his own father: a truly devastating circumstance for such a young man.
This is just the most recent event in what has been a career littered with tragic events and unfortunate circumstances for the talented player.
After tearing his ACL in 2017, Farley missed his freshman year at Virginia Tech. He spent that extended time off the field with his mother who was in declining condition during her battle with breast cancer, and ultimately passed away in January of 2018.
Despite this tragedy, Farley overcame adversity in 2018 and put up great numbers after switching to cornerback, and continued those efforts in a 2019 season where he was voted All-ACC First Team during a breakout year. Despite his success that year, the star corner suffered from back spasms which forced him to miss the final two games of the season, and ultimately led to him having a microdiscectomy performed over the offseason.
When the Coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, Farley became the first player in college football to opt out of play that season. He attributed his choice to his motivation to protect his father from the potential risks of the deadly illness, which illustrates how great of a value he holds on his family.
Just before Virginia Tech’s pro day leading up 2021 NFL Draft, Farley reinjured his back requiring another microdiscectomy. This caused his draft stock to fall from a top ten pick to a late first-rounder, where he would ultimately be selected by the Titans.
With less than two full seasons at corner and injuries early, Farley struggled to adjust in his first NFL action. After suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2 that caused him to miss a few games, Farley ultimately suffered a knee injury in Week 6 that landed him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Already labeled “a draft bust” by frustrated fans, Farley returned to play 9 games during the 2022 season and was often criticized while on the field.
While his still promising career remains in limbo, and it seems the Titans organization will rightfully give Farley as much time as he needs to come to terms with this tragedy, I think now is a good opportunity to reflect on how football fans as a collective group can be more conscientious of the fact that these players have life experiences and emotions just like everyone else.
Anyone who has ever looked at football-related social media knows just how toxic things can get online, often with lots of explicit language and sometimes even blatant attacks or threats towards players. What people fail to realize is that players really do see these comments and it really does impact their mental health.
Just last season, former Titans’ tackle Dennis Daley publicly addressed his battle with mental health issues after receiving criticism for his poor play. Former Titans’ receiver A.J. Brown also described his struggle with suicidal thoughts while on the Titans, despite largely positive reception as a player.
Caleb Farley has overcome countless adversities throughout his career, many of which are entirely out of his own control.
“I’ve had a pretty wild past five years, six years. I’m a fighter, though,” Farley said in a moving interview with Queen City News. “I just lean on my faith. That’s all I can do. That’s all I got. I’m thankful my parents were well-respected in my community. They were very loved. God-fearing men and women. You know that it’s always a plus to have positive role models to raise me.”
All this is to say: yes, we have opinions. Yes, we are passionate about our teams. But in the end, football is just a game. It gives so much to so many, and yet, as we have seen time and time again, it can take everything away in a moment.
In the wake of tragedy and in the face of the upcoming season, we should all reflect on how to be more uplifting towards one another; everyone is going through something.
Please send your thoughts and prayers to the Farley family during this hard time.