NFL Films is following the journey of Ojay Harris, local player-turned-coach diagnosed with autism | Aaron Carter
Harris, who was diagnosed with autism in the third grade, is the subject of an NFL Films feature currently in early production.
I must admit, worry came over me when I saw emotion drip from the face of Martin Luther King assistant coach Ojay Harris on Saturday afternoon.
Simon Gratz had just captured its fourth consecutive Public League football championship, beating the Cougars, 14-6, in the Class 5A final on a cold and blustery day at Northeast.
Harris, tears in his eyes, walked near midfield in the customary handshake line.
A display of poor sportsmanship wasn't my concern. His potential reaction to the camera crew following him, however, made me nervous.
Since the last story and video I produced on Harris, who was diagnosed with autism in third grade, NFL Films contacted me and subsequently decided to create its own feature on Harris.
A film crew has already been at two games and at least one practice.
The plan is to follow Harris periodically and possibly document his trip to this year's Super Bowl, the tickets for which were presented to Harris by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the Eagles' season opener Sept. 6.
To be clear, I'm not saying the crew was too close on Saturday. Capturing the emotion of a moment is essential. I believe the crew, which has been first-class in our interactions, handled the situation with aplomb.
My fear, however, was what if Harris became overwhelmed by emotion and had an outburst?
As a sophomore, Harris once had an emotional "meltdown" on the team bus after a teammate's continued teasing. Even professional athletes, who are accustomed to a camera's presence, have lashed out after an emotional loss.
Saturday, Harris didn't just remain composed. Minutes later, he also consoled King players, some of whom he played with last season.
"I told them, 'Even though I'm your coach,' " Harris said, " 'I'm still your brother.' "
Months ago, Devon Harris said this of his younger brother's continued evolution: "Every time I see Ojay, he's like a different person."
I spoke to Harris's dad, Shannon, on Sunday. I relayed to him my initial fears about Saturday's postgame.
He is the patriarch of a family that for years has lived with the uncertainty of who would take care of Ojay if he couldn't care for himself as an adult.
"The version of Ojay you're seeing now is like … wow," Shannon Harris said. "That's what we're talking about when we say we know now that he's gonna make it, that's he's gonna be OK."
Instead of underestimating what he's capable of, it occurs to me that I should simply be inspired by what Harris continues to do.
To that end, I recently finished writing my own emotional tale, a longform piece for which I am still trying to find an appropriate home.
It's about the aftermath of the bizarre car accident that forced me to bury basketball and nearly ended my life, and how a young athlete I once covered is attempting a similar rebirth.
With so much ugliness and negativity in the world, you need not look farther than the high school sports section to find hope.