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Players are People Too

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With watchable preseason matches in the coming days and kickoff to the regular season just around the corner, it seems as good a time as any to float this reminder

Kicking a man when he's down?
Kicking a man when he's down?
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

No doubt as the games play out there will be times when fingers are pointed, play and commitment questioned, names singled out for criticism, for mistakes. It's natural, it's healthy. That's the entangled dance of professional sport and fandom.

It is, however, worthwhile to recall that underneath that red jersey, there is a person, somebody subject to the same pressures and frailties each endures.

An unforeseen advantage of being able to attend training is that one gets to see these guys away from the intensity, the heightened emotion, of the matchday. There is little normal about the interactions, win or lose, before or after a game. Focus is elsewhere, words are guarded, results, or the lack thereof, the singular emphasis.

But on a random midweek morning, one can catch a glimpse into that other world.

Players unadorned in crests, wearing normal clothes like a real person, driving cars, raising children, engaging in the somewhat awkward workplace 'hello's, and navigating appointments amidst their professional commitments.

Honestly, it's a little strange in it's own way: footballing heroes in sneakers and jeans.

It's all too easy to think of players as commodities, the embodiment of trading cards. Position this one here, expect this; if they disappoint, arrange a trade for another shinier object or banish them to the bench.

Such is far too simplistic a view.

Back at the start of January news dropped that surprised nobody: defender Ahmed Kantari was placed on waivers by Toronto FC. It was the right decision.

He struggled mightily in his dozen appearances after joining the team in July.

Of course, there were reasons for that: stepping into a club midseason is never easy, especially one already struggling defensively; the inherent difficulties of finding footing alongside an ever-changing back-line; getting up to pace just as the rest of the league begins to hit their stride.

Reasons and excuses are interrelated lots.

A case could be made that given more time and a proper preseason, Kantari may have worked out as a solid defender.

But pro sport is unkind; time, a luxury not often afforded.

On July 28, speaking to the media for the first time, Kantari was happy to be in Toronto, looking forward to a new challenge after ten years plying his trade in France.

Following a few of the standard 'welcome to MLS' questions – and the nonavailability of his preferred number four jersey – Kantari mentioned that his wife and son, then five months old, would be joining him on this new adventure.

Imagine that. Moving a young family across an ocean to pursue one's career, only to have it not work out as planned.

It's tough.

There's no need for sympathy, such is the life of a footballer – and a player such as Kantari is well-compensated for the risk taken (draftees, homegrown players, and the like are another case entirely) - but a little understanding can go a long way.

So as TFC embarks on their season-long journey for glory, revel in wins, mire in defeats, cheer hard, expect more, and be disappointed, all the while keeping in mind that after the raucous atmosphere has subsided, there is always room for some humanity.