Friday, February 20, 2009

My heart goes out...

This story will make sports fans optimistic about the future, and bring a tear to the eye of anyone who has even half a heart beating in his or her chest.

We, the sports-obsessed nut-jobs of the blogosphere spend a lot of our time talking about the subjects of the day - steroids, HGH, rules violations in search of that elusive edge - the list goes on, and it gets less and less positive with each passing month. Hall of Fame arguments used to be based solely on statistics. Now the question of "if they didn't juice, would they have gotten in? Should we put them in anyway?" haunts every HoF vote. People talk about tainted championships, and history books are rewritten by iconoclasts, tearing down players such as Babe Ruth, once held in such high regard that he was almost thought of like a deity in the sport. Now he was a fat, drunk, womanizing baseball savant.

Sports heroes are torn down with a regularity of an iconoclast on an all-bran diet.

Every now and then a story hits the national wire that gives me hope - not for national sports, but most definitely for athletes at other levels of sport. I touched on this about a year ago when I wrote the following -

If you want to look up to athletes, to put someone on a pedestal and use him or her as an example for your kids - look to something, someone a little more obscure.

Look to the Ironman Triathlon Championships. Not to the top finishers.

Look to sister Madonna Buder, an amateur athlete who finished the event for thirteen consecutive years (missing last year's cut off by mere minutes at the end of the cycling stage), breaking her own record each of those years as being the oldest woman to complete the event. Or take John Blais, a man with ALS who completed the Ironman in 2005 in order to raise awareness for the disease. He was in a wheelchair by the 2006 event and didn't live to see the 2007 Ironman. Then there was a competitor in this year's event by the name of Scott Rigsby, a double-amputee who lost both of his legs below the knees. How about Charles Plaskon, a blind 64-year old finisher? Or the story of Dick Hoyt, which you really have to see to believe? Really. I can't do him justice.

There are plenty of athletes out there deserving of that pedestal, for any number of reasons. Just try not to forget that the pros are human too, and generally willing to do whatever it takes to stay at the top of their game. The people I mention above are human as well, with human failings like the rest of us. However, unlike the Clemenses of the world, they're not doing what they do for money...or even personal glory. They see the mountain in front of them and see something to accomplish.
Then there are the teenage athletes that get sportsmanship, that understand it so much better than so many of the adult professionals. There were the high school girls in Washington last year that each gave their medals to the girl who finished a place ahead of when the first place runner was erroneously disqualified.

And now there are the high school basketball teams in Illinois and Wisconsin that did the right thing simply because they knew it was the right thing to do. It wasn't about winning. It wasn't about the letter of the law. It was about doing the right thing by a player on a rival team - the fact that the player was a rival was immaterial. The fact that he was grieving, that he needed to play - that's what was important.

Go to the linked story. In a time when we here Manny Ramirez and Scott Boras whining about his contract, or lack thereof; when we're getting disingenuous apologies from steroid users and half excuses that just open the users up to more questions (A-Rod, I'm looking at you); when some of the biggest names in sports are involved in criminal proceedings (Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, the ongoing saga for Michael Vick); when professional sports are filled with me-me-me players (Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson) that are so self-centered that their teams suffer; when any number of other offenses are committed in the professional athletic community, the story of Johntel Franklin of DeKalb should be required reading.

If you have not read his story, do so now. Don't wait. Please.


Chris said...

Thanks for linking that, Kevin, I probably would've missed it. That is a great story about the best in sports. Reminds me of the girls' softball team that carried an opponent around the bases last year, after the girl hit a home run and tore up her knee running to first. We all know those stories are out there . . . thanks for posting this one!

Kevin Smith said...

I had forgotten about the softball team. That was a great story too. To be honest - I would probably have missed this story too had it not been for my wife. This really was a great story - I wish more of the stories like this would hit the national press. Glad I could get the story out to a few more people.

Suldog said...

Did a small piece on The Hoyts a couple of weeks back. Truly, in my eyes, THE most inspirational sports story, ever.

Kevin Smith said...

At worst the Hoyts are a top five/ten sort of story. I would be hard pressed to beat it, and I'm constantly on the lookout for stories like that.

The one Chris mentions was a great story, and definitely what you want to hear about in regards to the game(s) being played right - same with the runners in Washington, and the high school football player a couple of years ago in Illinois who asked the state to rescind his rushing record because he found out that the coaches of the his team and the team he broke the record against agreed that if he was close to the record, that they would just let him have the record.

I just wish more professional athletes would take their cues from these amateurs.