Who do we root for?

Photo: Via Jordan Morris’ Twitter account

We want to root for athletes who are like us.

What does “like us” tend to mean? Sometimes, it’s little more than that they grew up in the same place.

Just last weekend, John McCarthy made his debut for his hometown team; like 95 percent of the crowd, he grew up and had spent much of his life in and around Philadelphia. It was no wonder that the crowd backed him enthusiastically, giving him an enormous roar when his name was announced in the starting lineup and an even bigger one when the final whistle blew on his first victory. It was a beautiful day, punctuated by the postgame interview that quickly became legendary.

It’s more than just location, though. It’s personality, attitude, circumstance. Philadelphia loves athletes who are hard-nosed — just look at Aaron Rowand, who literally put his nose on the line for his team. New York loves athletes with an image as big as that city’s overlarge ego. Because they’re a team of ridiculous hipsters, the Seattle Seahawks are beloved in the Pacific Northwest. And so on and so forth.

We root for athletes who went to our colleges, who share our names, who make us think for one second that we could be them, that they represent us.

Sometimes, we even root for athletes who share our diseases.

A body that doesn’t listen

I have diabetes. Type 1, or “juvenile diabetes,” in case you’re curious. That’s the kind that you can’t control, the kind where one day you’re a perfectly healthy kid and the next day your pancreas attacks itself and your whole world changes.

I was diagnosed ten years ago, when I was thirteen. I was lucky, in a perverse sense, because my younger sister had been diagnosed with the same disease two years earlier. I knew what I was getting into; there’s no way she could have. I was lucky to have born in this era, an era when we’ve made tremendous progress in understanding this disease and developing innovative treatments. I consider myself lucky. I don’t want this article to be a sob story about me.

But what I will tell you is that diabetes completely screws with with your ability to play sports. In high school, I played soccer and tennis. When you’re diabetic, the effort of expending energy sends your blood sugar in wild directions. I’d lose focus, my head swimming and my hands shaking, as I tried to boot a ball forward from the backline or place a forehand right down the line. Even today, there are days when I go to the gym and can’t last five minutes before my plummeting blood sugar rudely informs me that my workout is over.

So I pay relentless attention to diabetic athletes. Part of it is that there are only so many of them — a friend once jokingly asked if diabetic athletes were my version of “famous Jewish sports legends” — and I can list most of them off the top of my head.

Jay Cutler. (Not my favorite example.) Adam Morrison. (Okay, that one’s not great either.) Brandon Morrow, Sam Fuld, Kris Freeman… that’s about it. Admit it, you had to google some of those guys.

The other reason I pay so much attention to them, though, is that I know it’s so hard. It’s hard to deal with, day in and day out. You can’t forget to check your blood sugar, to bring your supplies everywhere you go, to make sure you’re never more than two minutes away from some sugar.

Great athletes have to listen to their body every day. Great diabetic athletes have to listen to a body that has literally no interest in behaving.

“Anything is possible!”

I didn’t know before yesterday that Jordan Morris, the Stanford sophomore who exploded on to the U.S. National Team scene with an electrifying goal against Mexico, is diabetic. It’s not something you can see, and it’s certainly not something you predict. You can’t look at a person and say — yep, there’s a Type 1, right there.

Even before the goal, I thought Morris was playing a great game. His movement was smart throughout; his speed was spectacular. There are plenty of forwards in the U.S. player pool; there aren’t many forwards with his afterburners and calm confidence. It was a hugely encouraging performance on the biggest stage — that is, the biggest stage there is for a midweek friendly in April.

Only after the goal did I see, in between the millions of #dosacero tweets filling up my timeline, a tweet from Morris in December. A picture of a tattoo on his arm with the message “T1D” and this message from Morris:

“To all the young diabetics out there keep working hard and know that anything is possible! Dream big!  @JDRF”

I can’t fully put into words how important that message is, to the millions of Americans — far too many of them under the age of 20 — who struggle with diabetes, and will for their entire life.

It was said on the Fox broadcast last night that we build up American soccer players just to tear them down. And that’s true — it’s happened far too often. I can’t tell you, I won’t tell you, that Jordan Morris will go on to become the next great American striker. The odds are against him.

The beauty of sports, of young athletes and their wonderful promise, is that there is always hope. I’m going to pull for Jordan Morris, wherever his career goes. I’m going to pull for him because I love our national team and I want us to win the World Cup some day. If he succeeds, our team is more likely to.

But I’m also going to pull for him because, on the stage of international soccer, he represents me. He represents us, a community of millions who fight their body every day to do the things they love, whether it’s just going for a pleasant walk or scoring a goal in front of sixty thousand people.

And I’m hoping that the next soccer-loving nine-year-old to receive this life-changing diagnosis will have a hero to look up to.


  1. Wish I could add something witty – but it isn’t there. Good read. Thanks.

  2. I had never even heard of this kid before last night, much less know that he was diabetic. That’s pretty freakin’ amazing. He must have an insulin pump.

    • Same situation here as scottso.

      Really an awesome article, Peter.

      Knowing that about Morris gives me extra respect for the kid.

  3. Atomic Spartan says:

    I would submit that we watch all sports to see people overcome adversity with extraordinary skill and grace. That Morris can do what he does is extraordinary in itself. That he can do this in spite of an adversity that his teammates do not have gives his performance a meaning that transcends the game.

  4. One of the kids I coached last year is diabetic. So much so that she had to basically quit for a year prior to get things stabilized – including getting a pump and a worker dog that goes everywhere with her (the dog can sense when her sugar is low even before she can; it’s absolutely amazing). Halftime, her mom would pull her aside to check her sugar, and whether or not she could play in the 2nd half – and how much – was determined by those tests. It wasn’t too hard to tell when her sugar was a bit low, though; she’d get ornery. 🙂
    She’s one tough cookie, fearless on the field – even playing goalie for me in pinch. She can play on my team anytime going forward.

    • had one a few years back too. He was an outstanding player…had technical ability and ridiculous pace. Had him on varsity as a freshman…got minutes. By his soph year it was clear something wasn’t right….he was deteriorating and his color was scary. After all kinds of tests, he turned out to be type 1. Just like you said, his soph year was kind of a wash until he figured his body out and by his junior year, he was fine. It just came to finding what was the right amount to regulate the kid. His dad and trainer would tend to him at halftime…..he was an all-league selection his junior and senior year. He didn’t want to try college ball dealing with it though…..mad respect for Morris.

  5. Bobby Clarke was passed over by many teams in the NHL because he had diabetes (I don’t know which type, though) and it was even more poorly understood then. The Flyers did some research and took a chance on him. He turned out to be one of the greatest Flyers ever.
    Good luck to Jordan Morris. Let’s hope he becomes the Bobby Clarke of the USMNT (and maybe for the Union?)

    • Nick Barron says:

      It was also type 1 and that was before all the technology we have to control it nowadays. He was the ultimate badass.

  6. Nick Barron says:

    I saw the same tweet from Morris a few months ago. This made me absolutely ecstatic since my 13 year old son is also diabetic and a soccer player. I showed it to my son and I could tell it gave him hope. I’ve watched him struggle through high and low blood sugars while playing since he was 7 years old and it never gets any easier. You have to have a high level of toughness to play any sport with this disease. I commend Jordan Morris for his toughness and his skill and I will also be pulling for him through his career.

  7. Thanks for sharing Peter. Taking care of lots of kids with T1D, I can only begin to imagine how difficult exercise and competitive sports can be. I didn’t know about Morris, so thanks for giving me another great example to inspire kids.
    I would also encourage anyone affected by T1D and their families to look into It is a pretty amazing federally funded organization coordinating research into the causes and prevention of T1DM. Might be especially interesting for families like yours.

  8. Old Soccer Coach says:

    When I was still teaching and coaching I had a colleague ten years older than I who had been diagnosed type 1 in college. He was a math teacher with the instincts of an engineer. He observed himself very carefully and kept a clear handle on what impacts particular activities had on his metabolism. He played in our school alumni soccer games into his sixties. But handling his disease was of necessity one of the top three priorities in his life after his faith and his family. We, his friends, understand and accept that.

  9. Thanks for sharing, Peter. I’ve been a T1D since 1983.
    You can also add Jay Leeuwenburg and Jason Johnson (major league pitcher who wore his pump on the field) to your list of diabetic athletes.

  10. Thanks Pete. My wife is a school nurse who helps 3 grade school diabetics. Our highschool quarterback and one cheerleader are type 1. They have met with the younger kids and just talked to them….its great for them to see older kids,in the same boat, being able to do the things they love. I wish more pro athletes were more vocal about their diabetes. Rock on Jordan…you to Pete!

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