If I have one problem, it’s that I’m too sensitive.
Many people – okay, just I – tell me that all the time.
After Herschel Walker acknowledged his recent defeat in the U.S. Senate race for Georgia – whew! - I thought I’d be exultant that he didn’t win.
I mean, Herschel is about as qualified to be a U.S. Senator as my childhood neighbors’ cat – and Fluffy’s been dead for 50 years.
Instead of joy, though, I felt pity and heard myself a few times saying - without meaning to - “poor Herschel.”
The dude went – lickety split – from an object of revulsion and ridicule to one who looked like he needed a hug.
Part of my sympathy for him may lie in the fact that Herschel’s and my professional careers began around the same time in Georgia in 1979 – his gamboling up and down the football field at the University of Georgia in Athens and mine fetching coffee and dry cleaning for busy editors at the Atlanta Constitution newspaper.
He was from a little bitty Georgia city called Wrightsville and I was from a little bitty North Carolina city called Rockingham.
We’re both prone to exaggeration, too: he said he graduated at the top of his high school class and was a cop; I, for years, claimed I was an award-winning journalist without specifying that the “award” I won was the spelling bee in Mrs. Robinson’s 6th grade class on a day that all of the smart kids had gone on a field trip or something.
That’s where our similarities ended: He was a phenomenon from Day 1 and even inspired a song that became a regional hit: Give Herschel Walker The Ball (You All) or something like that. The only song I've ever inspired anyone to sing was Hit The Road, Jack.
To me, though, the most memorable thing he did was not on the gridiron, but in front of a microphone. When he first came to prominence, Wrightsville was experiencing racial turmoil and both sides of it were trying to get Herschel to speak up for them.
That’s a heavy load to lay on the most sophisticated 18-year-old, and Herschel was not that. When asked to take sides, teenage Herschel’s response still rings out.
“I just wanna play football,” he said.
I’m sure he did. To the discerning eye, it was obvious throughout the election and especially minutes after it was over that Herschel still just wanted to play football - or be anywhere other than running for a senate seat that even he had to know he was unqualified for.
(Nearly two million Georgia voters knew it, too – but, amazingly, still voted for him.)
During the election and runoff, it was important to amplify the vast political and character differences between Walker and his opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock: Walker was going to come out on the short end of each of those.
Post-election, though, the people still posting videos of Herschel's gaffes and calling him dumb and a clownish sellout are being gratuitously cruel, like pulling the wings off an already crippled fly.
Several years ago, some guy became famous for seven-and-a-half minutes for making a cringe-y video defending Brittney Spears from her critics.
“Leave Brittney Alone,” he wept unashamedly in a clip that became a famous meme.
I’m not going to shed any tears for him but I do say “Leave Herschel Alone.”
And if you care for him, see that he seeks some help.