If you are remotely an NFL fan, you have probably seen a few tributes to Chris Wesseling, a writer and podcaster for NFL Network, who passed away on Super Bowl weekend after battling cancer twice for the past few years. He leaves behind a wife, Lakisha (who also works for the NFL) and an infant son, Lincoln.
I’ve been a fan of the podcast since it began as a segment on the Dave Dameshek podcast, so I’ve literally heard every episode Chris was on, and I ended up moderating of the subreddit to encourage more fans of the show to congregate and share thoughts, etc. Through that time, I’ve had the pleasure to “talk” with all of the hosts on the show including Chris and also Dan Hanzus, Marc Sessler and Gregg Rosenthal, as well as most of their producers including the current queen, Erica Tamposi. These “talks” have all been virtual, a Direct Message on Twitter, an email, or a comment on Instagram, etc. So, in no way, shape or form can I pretend to be actual friends with any of these talented, funny people.
But like so many people who didn’t actually “know” Chris, I was absolutely gutted when I heard the news, in my case via Instagram:
This past summer, when Chris’ cancer relapsed, I started a GoFundMe to assist with the costs that come with treatment like this (the non-US listeners of the pod, of which there are many, struggle to understand what it’s like to live without universal healthcare) and we raised over $11,000. It was awesome. I had left it open (mostly out of laziness, but also because I didn’t know if they’d withdrawn the funds yet) and as soon as the news hit, people started asking what they could do for Lakisha and Linc. Like me, almost none of these people knew them personally, but we all FEEL like we do.
As of this post, the fundraiser is
nearing $200,000 over $250,000 and climbing. Our hopes are that this can help Lakisha set up a college fund, or buy a house or something that is hard enough for a couple and even harder when you are on your own. And this post here is not to brag on this but to reflect upon it, and the outpouring that’s happened since Chris passed.
Because … one of the thing that has always charmed me so much about the Around The NFL podcast is how obvious it is that the hosts are true friends. They hang out together outside of work constantly. And that extends to other members of the NFL Network, including Colleen Wolfe who gave a remarkable statement about Chris during Super Bowl coverage. It struck me that Colleen (and her husband, John Gonzalez) were in the hospital with Chris at times, and how CLOSE the family is there. I’ve had some great jobs in my life, and made some good friends at work, but I’ve never had THAT. Watching Rich Eisen fight back tears talking about Chris, or the hosts at Good Morning Football talk about their memories of the man… it was truly remarkable.
I’m rambling here.
The outpouring of pure grief from so many about Chris is really what I’m trying to write about. Someone has collected them in this post, and I’ve also seen so many comments on the GoFundMe … and it’s just such a amazing legacy that Chris touched so many people, including thousands of us who never met him in person. Imagine being the kind of person who was that important to people who you never met. And it’s not because he was a pop star, or an actor or some Instagram/YouTube/TikTok star or whatever passes for celebrity these days.
People loved Chris because he was great at what he did, and he was incredibly, genuinely kind. His heart was massive and he loved to celebrate how much he loved his wife, his son (with whom he had FAR too little time), his passion for sports, and his friendship with so many.
Chris would be the last person to want us to calculate his legacy in terms of how many people tweeted about him or posted on Reddit … but it’s remarkable how many of these there are. So many people have talked about how they had a running exchange with Wess (as he was known to many) on one platform or another, or how one of his pieces of writing inspired them to do X, Y or Z.
I can’t imagine being the kind of person who brings so much joy to so many – I think I’ve led a life where I have, probably, an outsized number of friends compared to many. I have true friendships with some truly wonderful people. I know I have the kind of relationships with friends and family where we can make it clear how much we mean to each other.
But, Chris was different, and he has left a tremendous legacy as a man.
His legacy isn’t just based on him being a great writer, though he absolutely was and you should endeavor to read everything he wrote. (That’s just on NFL.com, he wrote for Rotoworld and his own blog for years, too. Sadly, I know that he wanted to write a book and that will forever be a gap in our libraries.)
His legacy isn’t just the levity and insight he brought to the Around The NFL podcast, though he was a critical hero, helped make it what it was, and it’s worth re-listening to as many episodes as possible.
His legacy isn’t the list of great books on sports he created to share with others, the recipes he’d share on Instagram for his Green Egg, introducing the game of cornhole to non-Midwesterners, or things like that.
His legacy, it seems to me, is that everyone he seems to have met had the same reaction – impressed by his smarts, but blown away by his kindness and joy.
When Chris announced on the podcast he first had cancer, I teared up and thought about how strange it was to be emotional about someone I’d never met. When he first announced he was in full remission, I cried with joy. When he shared his engagement, and marriage to Lakisha, I was so utterly floored by his outpouring of love I similarly got emotional. And I cried again last weekend when I heard the devastating news.
Chris lived for far too short of a time – but one of the best legacies he leaves behind is this — with kindness and compassion, with smarts and passion, you can make not just your own life better but those who you come in touch with. It’s the true testament of what a man he was. It’s a lesson we should all take to heart.
Rest in peace, hero.