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Deeper than the Game

Geoff Hobson

  • I can barely understand the challenges of life and what it really took to be a man*
  • It was all good in the beginning before I was knowledgeable and before I was responsible for sinning*
    • My thoughts influenced by the experience in life. Searching for wrong when they're all looking for right.*


Michael Basnight doesn't have a name for this particular poem. But as he reads it, you know where it came from as words tumble from his soul. He may run with a football like a semi screaming out of Carolina into Tennessee on I-40. But his life is poetry in motion.

This isn't about playbooks and gassers and nine-on-sevens because every dorm room in the NFL has a story. It's just that Michael Basnight writes his down in a relentless one-on-one drill with himself.

It's after lunch here at Bengals training camp in a church-quiet Georgetown College dorm. Except here in Basnight's room. His bed and desk is blanketed with whatever explodes out of his head at a moment's notice. There are no video games or laptops. The only whirring is in his mind.

"I'm looking to truly give back," Basnight says. "I don't want to just give people a fish. I want to teach them how to fish. Teach them how to get out of their environment. To make their situation better for everyone and not just give back and say, 'It's all about me.' "

There's a sketch pad filled with drawings of football jerseys. There's a notepad with a jingle he's writing for a local Sprint PCS office. A book about Confucius. He's got phone numbers lying around for his project to run some football camps in Hawaii and talk about literacy.

"This is my idea of a double number," Basnight says of his jersey sketches. "If you've got two favorite players, put one name and number on the back and one on the front."

And there's pages ripped from notebooks with poems in various stages of life.

But they're too late to go into his book of poems to be published in the next several weeks by Basnight Books. His adviser thinks "Deeper Than The Game," can tap into the vein of the 18-34 demographic that usually can't find anything to read that talks about them. Kind of like a jock's "Waiting to Exhale."

* * Continued from Homepage**


The book is to be unveiled when his alma mater of North Carolina A&T plays Tennessee State in the Riverfront Classic at Cincinnati's Cinergy Field, the day before the Bengals regular-season opener against the Browns.

"Mike Basnight is the only person I know who can have 20 things going on," says Bill Hayes, the A&T coach. "His mind is just so active and he's so intelligent. I've been telling him for years to narrow it down to just one thing and focus. But that's not him."

Basnight is a second-year running back plucked from the non drafted who is smart enough to know he's got a legitimate shot at the starting running back job with Corey Dillon settling in Seattle for the summer. Pamela Crockett, a Washington D.C. lawyer who is his adviser, thinks that's why people will be so attracted to his work. The underdog winning. Everyman with the Big Men. 
It's more than football. It always has been. At least ever since he was about nine and racism drove him into his bedroom to put the hurt on paper. "Tragedy," is what turned him to poetry.

"People are seeing just a football game, but it's my opportunity," Basnight says. "The linebacker to me is like vanity. The defensive end might be gluttony. And trying to get into end zone and making your life right."

Life has not always been right. Basnight calls Hayes, "Pop." He never knew his natural father. Burnette Basnight, just 17, died 28 days before Mike was born in the late summer of '77 when an angry current in a North Carolina stream dragged him and another man to death.   
"He was a running back, too," Michael Basnight says amid the ideas. "Played at Columbia High School. Now I have a daughter and I'm trying to figure out what a father is supposed to be."

He had a "Mom," who was his grandmother. Lorraine Basnight, the mother of his father. and She was 6-2 and ruled him that way. The day she died of cancer in her late '50s, Basnight was about to play the opening game of his sophomore season at A&T. He says his mother is close to him, but they are probably more like brother and sister. Basnight, an African-American, says racism drove him out of his small, rural home of Gum Neck on the Carolina coast when he started dating a white girl.

When "Mom," died, he turned to Bill Hayes, his coach.

"I've been coaching for 38 years," Hayes says. "And I'haven't had too many guys as thoughtful. Every Christmas and Father's Day, I get a call from Mike. Every year. And really, that's what it's all about."


Lost mostly in community, watching all of us become prisoners of non unity

Socially part of a team, individually participating through a social scheme

I think hard about all I was taught. It shakes me to realize what the earth makes me.*

"I'm where I am today because I'm a collection of everybody who's helped me along the way," Basnight says. "I'm a collaboration. When I say, 'prisoners of non-unity,' I don't like to see black and white. We're all in this together."

Gum Neck was poor and Basnight became the first man in his familty to graduate from college. He's making $175,000 this season and it galls him to see the riches of the NFL not always given back.

"I want kids to see that players will give back," Basnight says.

*It would normally be my choice for external forces to be non-existent

but genetically inherited curses are hard to live with.*

"I have intelligent people in my family, but for whatever reasons, they didn't have the chance to do what I had to do," Basnight says. "That's a genetic curse I had to break. I'm trying to start a new tradition."

Basnight's subjects are his thoughts. He figures everybody has them. About growing up. His environment. His tragedies. He writes about finding the ideal woman in "My Lady."

*Eyes all big and bold, full of joy in this world so cold

Love you too hard, never shy

Overwhelming in my life, filling me with pride

Your smile like the whirling winter winds

I often wonder if your love ever ends*

Right now, the lady is football, and Basnight, a 235-pounder who has a tendency to run too high, is running with confidence. In his one NFL start last season as a rookie, he hurt Jacksonville's playoff defense with 86 yards on 10 carries and added 58 more yards on three catches. Maybe a guy who can turn a phrase doesn't have too worry about turning heads.
"I want to be pioneer," Basnight says. "I don't want people just to read my book. I want people learn to read just to read my book. It has content. It's not shooting your Momma up. It's just straight intellect. Feeds the brain."
In the season after Ray Lewis, Rae Carruth and all the rest, it's also food for thought. There are still good stories hidden in dorm rooms during the summer.
Certainly good enough to write down.
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