Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles has become a national fan favorite, in large part due to his trademark speed. The same speed that allowed him to run circles around the competition and earned him the Big 12 100-meter title at Texas. The same speed that allows him to leave blistering tread marks on the field while burning out a 4.36 40-yard dash.
But as the cliché goes, "Life isn't a sprint, it's a marathon," and Charles has endured a storm of emotional hardships since the 2011 season.
When you see No. 25 hugged by yellow and embossed on a hydrant-red backdrop, a myriad of thoughts race through your head. A streamline of animation paints pictures of a running back buckling the knees of defenders, turning a field of dreams into 120 yards worth of nightmares. He's a blur whose every step seems to be one ahead of psychics; whose YouTube highlights end with suggested videos of cats chasing a laser.
Simply put, Charles threatens to send elderly fans into cardiac arrest with each handoff, and he can generate enough electricity to defibrillate them with the next.
That was never more apparent than in 2010, when the Chiefs' crowd-pleaser ranked second on his team in rushing attempts yet finished second in the league in rushing yards. Averaging 6.38 yards per carry—falling just shy of Jim Brown's single-season record of 6.4—Charles was sitting atop the athletic world.
2011 rolled around, and the fleet-footed tailback looked primed to surpass the lofty expectations that lingered overhead.
Then in the second game of the season, Charles rounded the corner with an outreached arm, determined to move the chains and lease a new set of downs. But in an effort to do so, he made one last gargantuan stride in the field of play and immediately folded on the sideline.
Initially, fans discredited their best judgment and sided with hope, but they knew that Charles' season had prematurely ended.
He was carted off the field, as were the postseason aspirations of the Chiefs.
The only bright lights in Charles' near future shined above an operating table. Words of encouragement weren't going to be shouted by 70,000 rabid fans, but by a personal trainer. The only schedule that he would be checking had painstakingly tedious rehab sessions scribbled in.
I'm on my rehab this afternoon get right for next Sundaylockerz.com/s/240103858— Jamaal Charles (@jcharles25) August 31, 2012
Charles embarked on a comeback trail for 328 days before getting his shot at redemption.
But it came.
On his first rushing attempt since his debilitating injury, Charles scampered through the Arizona Cardinals defense for five yards. A meaningless preseason contest was anything but for Kansas City's game-changer.
Recalling how much he had struggled since doctors confirmed that he had torn his ACL, a candid star offered, "I almost teared up after I got that first carry. It’s just been an emotional time." He added, "To come back to this stadium and to feel all the love and passion – I just feel that God gave me a second chance and I’m just so happy to step on the field again" (via KCChiefs.com).
Twelve games into 2012, Charles has already eclipsed the millennium mark with 1,055 rushing yards. In his team's first victory of the season, he planted his surgically repaired left leg and torched pursuers on a 91-yard beeline to the end zone—the NFL's longest rush of the year.
The Chiefs have rivaled historic ineptitude this season, which has left a sour taste in the mouth of their running back. But at least he has reassured himself that he's back. He's still Jamaal: The home-run threat who is one mystifying cut away from snapping ankles like Slim Jims in the hands of a starved Randy Savage.
However, his train of thought derailed after learning of last Saturday's tragic events.
Charles' wife, Whitney, was a cousin of Kasandra Perkins, and Charles had played alongside Jovan Belcher for four years.
The Charles family addressed the situation by releasing the following statement (via the Kansas City Star):
Our family has suffered a personal tragic loss. Kassandra Perkins was in-fact first cousin to my wife, Whitney. As this is a very tough time for our family, I ask that we are respected as we grieve. Kassandra was not only family, but a friend and a loving mother. As my actual family and my Kansas City Chiefs family have been altered forever, we ask that you keep us and most importantly their child in prayer.
In times like these, very little makes sense in the eyes of those who are directly affected. Every so often, the globe grows a seam, and life throws a curveball that nobody saw coming. Countless hearts go out to the families, especially the couple's three-month-old daughter, Zoey.
Last weekend, fans weren't cheering for No. 25—they were cheering for Jamaal Charles.
We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.
Although his world surely seems upside down, hopefully Jamaal Charles finds a silver lining amongst the grays.