Saturday, September 06, 2014

A Rare Heartwarming Story from Sports

Reading the sports pages over the past few years, one is more likely to find stories of cheating (Armstrong, A-Rod, Biogenesis, Cilic, et al), sexual assault (Sandusky, Winston, Wrestler Angel Vega, etc.), match fixing (particularly in world football), violence (the New Orleans Bounty system, Belcher, War machine, Hernandez, Oscar Pistorius, etc.), bullying (Incognito, across College Football), suicide (Seau, Belcher, et al), or simple greed than ones that are truly inspiring. Too many pro and amateur athletes seem to forget that they are potential role models to youth, that they are representing their teams and their sports and that cheating to get ahead is not okay, even if “everyone else is doing it,” much less believing they are above the law.

And so it was refreshing to read a story this week of Spanish team Villareal, who allowed a 13-year-old, named Gohan, with advanced cancer, to start a friendly against Celtic. That the youngster scored soon after kickoff, before being subbed off, just adds to a wonderful story that included the boy meeting his heroes in the dressing room beforehand and even having his own space and player board behind him. The friendly is an annual event put on by the two teams to raise cash and awareness for child cancer sufferers. A truly heartwarming moment to help us forget how often our heroes let us down. (Daily Mail)

To move further away from cynicism, there were a host of such stories in recent years. Here are a few: 1. The New England Patriots and owner Robert Kraft all but adopted Sam Berns, who suffered from Progeria (an accelerated aging disease) before dying at 17, making him an honorary team captain and unofficial mascot (HBO did a documentary on him called “Life according to Sam,” 2. Baylor’s Isaiah Austin was an honorary NBA draft choice even after being diagnosed with Marfan syndrome just days before the pre-draft physical, 3. Last year, The Nebraska Huskies quarterback Rex Burkhead met a 5-year-old fan, Jack Hoffman, with brain cancer, formed a friendship with him and then arranged for him to run a play in the fourth quarter of a game, where he ran 69 yards for a touchdown. 4. In 2012, the Cincinnati Reds auctioned off a position as their batboy for charity, stipulating the winner need be between 15 and 19-years-old. But they then made an exception so that 29-year-old Down syndrome sufferer Ted Kremer could take the spot, and he apparently performed his duties with great aplomb, 5. The Special Olympics are often filled with heartening stories of personal triumph in the face of great adversity, but the story of Jessica Long certainly stood out when aired during the last Winter Olympics on NBC. She was born without fibulas, ankles, heels and most of the bones in her feet and given away by her Serbian parents, only to be adopted by a Baltimore, Maryland couple who raised her to become a multiple Gold Medal winner. NBC ran the story in February 2014 and her positivity in the face of her struggles was truly something to behold (see “Long Way Home: The Jessica Long Story”).  

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