Take the wannabe sports photographer. A woman from Alabama always thought she could have — should have — been a pro with a camera. Warner shows up, almost like a genie from a lamp, with two weeks of intensive training and then an audition for a job at Sports Illustrated. She is flabbergasted; thrilled. But she still has to shoot the pictures. If she can’t cut the mustard, she can’t work for the magazine.
“Do you have what it takes?” Warner asks, reflecting on the show’s central question. “That’s what it’s all about. Everything out there looks so much easier when you’re sitting there on your couch. Dreams aren’t easy. Dreams are a challenge.”
This mindset doesn’t, however, make you fearless. Warner, who works as a television analyst for the NFL Network, was criticized publicly in 2012 by a couple of former players for a comment he made about fearing for his sons’ safety should they play football. He was accused of biting the hand that fed him, or the hands that had snapped the ball to him. Warner responded with a long, heartfelt explanation. A discussion of concussions, he said, was totally appropriate — reminding people of his son, Zack, whom he had helped raise for more than 20 years and who suffered a traumatic brain injury. (Warner and his wife, who now have seven children, run a foundation that’s developing Treasure House, a residential community for young adults with developmental disabilities.)
“I don’t know why it is so hard for people to understand,” he says, “how I can both love the game and be grateful for what it did for me, but at the same time have concern for my kids in regards to playing it. Why does it have to be one or the other?”
Playing football is forever behind Warner, even though he is fit and only 41. He says he likely suffered as many as five concussions on the field, which may have played a part in his decision to exit the game early.
Yet when the NFL season rolls around, he still feels the thrill of it all, the appeal the game has. Late in the past season, while watching two NFL quarterbacks battle in a playoff game on TV, Warner let fly a passing thought on his Twitter page: “I am more nervous watching this one than when I played in these types of games.” Brenda promptly posted: “I am not.”
He was in the moment. And some moments only come along once.
“I didn’t need to have football in my life to have a complete life,” Warner says. “My wife and kids have given me a complete life. And yet I always would have been left with, ‘What would my life have been like if I had given up without even trying?’ ”
Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.