At last, an ESPN story not about LeBron James or Tom Brady.
A story that isn’t about the ultra-rich getting even richer, isn’t polished to a shine and spoon fed to the public by P.R. flaks and has nothing to do with politics.
That ESPN’s most viral recent social media post involves Arkansans and a program that has produced some of the most beloved Razorbacks makes it all the better.
It centers on Jamie Freeman, a janitor with cerebral palsy who has worked with the Greenwood Bulldogs’ football team since 2019. Freeman, 35, never got a chance to play for the prestigious 6A program that has produced eight state titles and greats such as Tyler Wilson, Drew Morgan and Grant Morgan.
His congenital condition, which affects movement, muscle tone and ability to pronounce words clearly, made playing team sports a pipe dream while growing up. In fact, through grade school, Freeman wrote “I was laughed at and made fun of constantly. This really hurt and affected my early childhood years. I wondered why I had to be different; thinking about it often brought me to tears.”
A few decades later, and it’s tears of appreciation and joy that are now flowing after ESPN shared Freeman’s story of overcoming and triumph with tens of millions worldwide:
Jamie, who has cerebral palsy, has been the Greenwood High School football team janitor since 2019.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 6, 2021
He always wanted to play sports growing up, but he couldn’t, so their state title winning football program rewarded him with a ring ?
(via Jamie Freeman/Facebook) pic.twitter.com/6QPH1j3ZOz
A few hours after ESPN posted this on its SportsCenter Facebook feed, it already had 81,000 likes and nearly 9,000 shares. That blew all other social media posts in the last two days, including ones about LeBron James, Eminem, Neymar, Jr. and Trevor Bauer, out of the water.
That goes to show how thirsty Americans are for stories that don’t relate to the latest hot take to leap from Stephen A. Smith’s yapping mouth but instead focus on what amateur sports are supposed to do — inspire and bring communities together.
“This is worthy of recognition!,” wrote Leah Haviland on SportsCenter’s Facebook page. “This is how you shine light in dark places!! During a time where we are absolutely broken, we need more positive and wholesome posts to remind us that love always wins. Absolutely beautiful!!”
“That is how you show respect to someone who is normally ‘invisible,'” C. Relford added on Twitter. “Much RESPECT to those that made this decision.”
Before rocketing to No. 1 on ESPN’s social media feeds, Freeman’s story first broke on local news.
Freeman sat down with Jourdan Black of 40/29 news, telling her: “I think cerebral palsy for me was a gift and I’m very grateful for it because in my life God has used it.”
Black also spoke to a number of Greenwood residents, including Bulldogs head coach Chris Young (who took over for the legendary Rick Jones, now a consultant for Eli Drinkwitz at Missouri).
“The thing about Jamie is he’s all about what Greenwood football’s about,” senior Tatum Sadler said in the video below. “He’s a hardworking, blue-collar type of guy.”
“It is not always easy,” Freeman said of living with cerebral palsy. “But things don’t need to always be easy.”
As a father of five children, the Greenwood Bulldogs’ latest celebrity has been able to thrive in his community in ways that run counter to some people’s misconceptions of what cerebral palsy patients are capable of. His persistence is honed from trying to do the right thing, even when it doesn’t come easily.
The story of how he started dating his wife, which Freeman shares in the book he authored, shows that:
After ESPN broke the story on a national level, FOX Sports soon followed suit. Fox even went further, airing a new interview with Freeman and photo of his large family at the :58 mark here:
Of course, when it comes to the wild west that is social media, even America’s current No. 1 feel-good story doesn’t come without its muckrakers.
To learn more about Jamie Freeman and his powerful testimony, see this:
It’s good to see those who have toiled “in the shadows” for so long get recognition. That impulse led me to write about the unofficial first black Little Rock Central High Tiger here: