Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | December 21, 2010

Hero: DeSean Jackson, Goat: Matt Dodge: Social Support Means Everything for All of Us

If you watch NFL football at all, you know exactly why Desean Jackson is this week’s hero and that Matt Dodge is not very happy at the moment.   I know many of you are not football fans (and I’m not a sports writer), but let me try to explain the situation.  The New York Giants had a commanding 31-10 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth quarter of the game.  A win for the Eagles meant almost certain victory in their division, a win for the Giants gave them a good chance of winning the division.  But, nothing was going the Eagles way the entire game, and it looked like a for-sure loss!

However, in the last 7 minutes of the fourth quarter,  the Eagles rallied to score 21 points, tying the game at 31-31!  The Giants failed to score on their last drive (if they could have only pulled into field goal range, they could have won), so they were forced to punt with 14 seconds left in the game.  14 seconds is not a lot time!  The thing to do in this situation is for the punter to punt the ball out-of-bounds, giving the Eagles at most 2 chances to move the ball to within field goal range–not a high probability, especially if Giants’ Matt Dodge got off a deep punt out-of-bounds.  Here’s what happened instead: 

In case you couldn’t tell, punter Matt Dodge kicked the ball straight to speed-demon DeSean Jackson, who returned the ball 65 yards for a touchdown and the Eagles win the game 38-31.  DeSean Jackson is the hero of the game, whereas Matt Dodge is seen on National TV being angrily confronted by Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin.

A hero and a goat.  A winning team and a losing one.  Two dramatically different outcomes, two dramatically different sets of emotions for players, coaches, staff on each team.  Yet, as I perused post-game coverage and articles on the internet, I noticed a critically important commonality in the two locker rooms following this dramatic game:  Both teams rallied around each other in a strong showing of social support. 

Sure, the scene in the Eagles locker room was more fun and easier to watch…but the point is, there was something to watch!  The Eagles players were hugging each other,  yelling, and jumping up and down–in fact they looked very similar to the little boys on my son’s little league team after they won their division!  Players who didn’t even get to play (like backup quarterback Kevin Kolb) were as much included in the celebration as DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick.  They called each other “family,” and all evidence indicates that this is how this particular team views one another and treats one another. 

So, how about the Giants?  I am equally impressed with their response, particularly how they treated punter Matt Dodge.  The Giants held back the press after the game for a few minutes for him, who were of course eager to assault Dodge with tons of questions.  After Dodge did start speaking to the press about his mistake, another Giants player came an interrupted him–telling the press that it wasn’t Dodge’s fault, that it never should have come down to the final punt, that the Giants defense as a whole was responsible.  Another Giants player emphasized that “we’re a team,” and that the fault should not fall all on Dodge’s shoulders.  Even Coughlin took on responsibility for what happened. Again, a great display of social support.

Not all winning professional teams act like family.  Not all players on losing teams rally to protect individual players or act like members of a family.  These two teams both showed, in public, amazing social support for one another.

The point?  We all need social support to successfully navigate through life.  There’s lots of research to support that social support is essential for good mental health, physical health, and longevity.  I also talked about this in a recent post, 4 tips for coping with change, where I identified social support as being critical for sucessful navigating through change. 

It may be obvious why Matt Dodge needed social support.  But why someone like DeSean Jackson?  After all, isn’t the fact that he did something that no one else has done in NFL history enough to keep him emotionally content?  Not really.  I heard one Eagles player talk about the difference between the atmosphere of the Eagles locker room and that of another winning NFL team. This player said you could not tell the difference between a win and a loss in that locker room, because the atmosphere was exactly the same –quiet!  The problem with that?  Loneliness is one issue.  It’s not good to be “on top” if you’re all alone.

Research suggests that people who struggle with anxiety report a greater lack of social support than people who do not.  Therefore, it’s critical that this issue be addressed if you are suffering from anxiety.   Addressing the issue of social support may take the form of working on forming friendships or stronger relationships with people already in your life, or it may mean finding and joining some kind of group, such as an anxiety support group.  For others it might mean joining a group at a church.  The bottom line, however, is that the forging and strengthening of relationships takes some effort and work.  I hope that for some, this will encourage you to work on strengthening your relationships.  If any of you feel completely lost as to how to form relationships, it might be an excellent time to seek some outside help, like that of a therapist.

Thanks for reading.  Who is your greatest source of social support?   Please comment below.    –Dr. Jennifer Fee



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr. Jennifer Fee and StressMaster. StressMaster said: Heros and Goats: Everyone needs social support! New Blog post […]

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