Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi
Browns wide receiver Sheehy-Guiseppi's inspiring story
01:08 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

Last week was an awful one in America. It began with the fallout from a horrific mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where a gunman – who police believe posted an anti-Hispanic manifesto – carried out a bloody rampage that claimed 22 lives. Early the next morning, there was another mass shooting, this time in Dayton, Ohio – killing nine and wounding over 25.

And the week didn’t get any better from there.

Dean Obeidallah

On Wednesday, ICE carried out massive raids at seven food processing plants in Mississippi. One of the most heartbreaking videos to emerge from the reporting on the story was of 11-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio, who told us through a stream of her tears, “I need my dad and mommy.”

And, on Friday, documents released by the police confirmed the worst about the El Paso gunman – that he had in fact been targeting “Mexicans.”

It’s challenging to imagine a more emotionally draining week in the news. But in that sea of despair came at least one glimmer of hope and inspiration for me. And it came from a surprising place, a preseason NFL football game.

On Thursday night, with less than four minutes left in the game between the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins, the Redskins punted the ball to the Browns’ 24-year-old receiver, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, who, in a flash, ran it back 86 yards for a touchdown.

The reaction of Sheehy-Guiseppi’s teammates was more fitting for a Super Bowl win than a pre-season touchdown late in a game. They stormed off the bench and joined their teammates on the field in the end zone, celebrating this young man’s touchdown.

But the reason for this over the top celebration was because Sheehy-Guiseppi’s teammates knew his story and grasped why this was a remarkable moment.

Four months ago, according to the Browns, Sheehy-Guiseppi was a guy sleeping outside of a Miami gym. He had spent his last dollars traveling there from his home in Arizona in the hopes of impressing NFL scouts at their annual tryouts in North Miami. But, to complicate matters, once he arrived, the broke athlete didn’t have a formal invite to the tryout – those are usually reserved for college football standouts and Sheehy-Guiseppi hadn’t played college football for the past two years.

Sheehy-Guiseppi, though, had a plan. His online research revealed that the Cleveland Browns vice president of player personnel, Alonzo Highsmith, would be at this NFL tryout. So, he approached the people guarding the door at the facility, pretended he knew Highsmith and told them a tall tale that Highsmith had asked him to attend. Apparently, he was convincing, because the guard let him in. Once inside, this 24-year-old made his way to Highsmith and pleaded his case to give him a quick try out.

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    Typically, the answer would’ve been, “Get out of here.” But Highsmith decided to give this young man a chance. And Sheehy-Guiseppi made the most of it, impressing the Browns’ executive enough to get invited to the Browns workout camp and later be included on the 90 person pre-season roster – leading him to be on the field for that improbable touchdown.

    It was that backstory that likely inspired Sheehy-Guiseppi’s teammates to run out onto the field Thursday night to celebrate his touchdown. And it was a moment that others who also heard what Sheehy-Guiseppi had overcome also celebrated, at least I did. I long for the day when we again cheer for each other as Americans – instead of viewing politics as our sport and the idea of “owning” the other side as our Super Bowl.

    Trump has clearly made the division in our country more pronounced, in large part because, in his view, doing that helped him win in 2016 – and all signs indicate he is trying to replicate that in 2020. There’s no need to recount all he has done to pit Americans against each other, but we’ve seen it from his call for “total and complete” Muslim ban during the campaign to his attacks against leading black Americans as “low IQ” and “dumbest man” to his recent tweet that four female progressive members of Congress should “go back” to where they came from. (Three of the four were born in the US, and the fourth is a naturalized citizen.)

    Of course, the left isn’t completely innocent either. But there is no denying that as President, Trump occupies a particularly powerful platform – one he has repeatedly used to play on divisions in American society.

    The truth is I don’t see any easy fix for what ails our nation, so I won’t offer some fortune cookie bromide about “Can’t we all get along”? We can’t, at least not now. Maybe, just maybe, after Trump is defeated and Trump’s bigotry and cruelty is driven to the fringes of society, where it belongs, we can start to heal. It’s unclear.

    But against that backdrop is why the unlikely story of Sheehy-Guiseppi, a young man pursuing his American dream and overcoming countless obstacles, is so welcome. It reminds me of what I once thought defined our country – and gives me a vision for what it might someday return to.