Imagine that you, a child, are informed that you are lactose intolerant. Maybe you’d been getting sick after eating, maybe your parents took you to the doctor, whatever. Your insides had been up to some nasty business, and now you had a diagnosis — dairy things make your insides nasty — and a grown-up-sanctioned plan of action: no more dairy.
Consider the things that might bum you out about this. Ice cream parties at school: gone. Cheese: no more. An end to after-practice pizza: Why even bother toiling on this cruel earth?
So now imagine that the most upsetting part of this decree, this lifetime sentence of soy and forced observation at ice cream parlors and — inevitably — diarrhea, was to develop a terrible fear: that the absence of milk from your diet would keep you from being sufficiently strong to embarrass your fellow children in football.
This was the kind of kid Bruce Arians was.
The Cardinals head coach has written a memoir, The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback, that is nominally about his various machinations of coaching and, yes, quarterbacks. Released Tuesday, it’s about as illuminating a tome as any participant in the NFL has ever produced, at least as far as tales of childhood development go. Here is a passage from the first chapter:
“Hell no. So I drank paint.” HELL NO. SO I DRANK PAINT. This was Arians’s solution to being robbed of milk’s wholesome calcium: to drink paint instead. To drink a potentially lethal amount of paint. To do this twice.
Bruce. Buddy. The clause “Sure, I had to get my stomach pumped twice” should never be followed by the word “but.” There is no “but” there.
Still: Let’s walk through this. (I tried to get in touch with the good coach to learn more, but he was unavailable.) We are still in the land of aw-shucks childhood misconceptions and not yet the sea of what in god’s name did you just say?, so let’s appreciate Arians’s reasonably adorable misunderstanding that milk’s bone-fortifying properties come from its appearance. We can assume, I guess, that it was white paint: He says he wanted — nay, “had to” — drink something that “looked like” that treasured cow juice. Was there white paint lying around his house? Did he save up his allowance and go to the hardware store? Were other colors more readily available but spurned as Arians sought out the good stuff, the elusive, forbidden, and strength-inducing shade of eggshell? When he says he was concerned about appearances here, does that mean other people were watching?
And then: Did he have an audience as he popped open a can of paint — how would a kid even do that, anyway? Did his lactose-enabled peers observe in silence as he poured the stuff thickly into a glass, as he raised it to his lips? Did they watch him flinch as he took his first long gulp, as it plastered his teeth and throat with goop and burned all the way down? Did they egg him on, cheering for him to finish his pour? And did they, in the minutes after the paint-drinking, begin to discern the shift from queasiness to actual illness? Did they say, “Hey, Bruce, dude, you OK man?” and have him stare vaguely into the distance in response? Were they the ones who ran for a grown-up, who had to explain the paint-milk-strength plot, who stood by as their friend was spirited away to the hospital? But it was fine: Little Bruce was OK in the end, his stomach cleared of paint and his parents left, probably, to wag their fingers and explain to their son that no, paint does not make you stronger, milk does not derive its power from its alabaster liquidity, drinking paint is not a good plan in any way, shape, or form.
AND THEN HE DID IT ALL AGAIN.
Bruce Arians: athlete; coach; man of ambition, stubbornness, commitment, and at least mild poison resistance. Just … maybe stick to kale.