‘Tis the season … to be blessed by the good that sports can do and thankful for the athletes and coaches who contribute to the doing of it.
Heaven knows there is plenty of bad stuff happening. Just this week, a USA TODAY Network investigation reported that over the past five years universities disciplined athletes for sexual misconduct at more than three times the rate of the general student population. Football players were disciplined the most.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and evening newsletters
You can find nastiness without searching far. Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett tomahawked a helmet into the head of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph. The New England Patriots are up to their old tricks. Apparently, it’s not cheating even when you get caught.
On and on it goes. Thankfully, there is Joe Burrow to balance the better nature of our spirit against the destructive power of the flesh. If you missed Burrow’s Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, it is restorative. Exemplifying humility and grace, the LSU quarterback spent part of his talk recognizing the needs of folks from his neck of the woods in southeastern Ohio.
“The poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” Burrow said. “There are so many people there that don’t have a lot, and I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.”
Burrow elevated an otherwise standard trophy presentation to touch millions of viewers — his speech triggered an online fundraising campaign that had raised more than $400,000 for the Athens County Food Pantry by late Tuesday — but the 23-year-old from The Plains is not alone in speaking hope, joy and thankfulness into existence.
There is a kind of magic in motivational language that moves us to action when inaction is the easier path. Whether a powerful sermon or a single word, history is salted with speech that led to a simple act of kindness, sacrificial giving or self-improvement for the benefit of others.
Sports supplies those seeds of inspiration better than your average political rant or bizspeak talking point. With or without help from Hollywood. The movies have embellished reality by falling back on the “based on real events” rationalization. So we get a variation of coach Herb Brooks’ fiery speech before the United States team’s “Miracle on Ice” defeat of the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics.
It does not require a film director, however, to move us to cheers and tears.
Jim Valvano’s ESPY awards speech still resonates because it took on cancer with humor and hope.
“Three things we should do every day,” he said shortly before his death in 1993. “Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
Lou Gehrig considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” despite dying from the disease that would come to bear his name. Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne motivated his players by memorializing The Gipper.
Broadcaster Jack Buck recited a poem after 9-11, NFL cornerback Darrell Green thanked his family during an emotional Hall of Fame speech, and Purdue super fan Tyler Trent announced that he would make every day the best it can be.
Burrow’s heartfelt words won’t cure cancer or end war, but they hit the proper tone for the times. With sports as a backdrop, he humbly used his platform for good.