As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
The idea was simple: sports offered a continuous scroll of life lessons so vast and rich that it could, with adequate storytelling, support a regular column. With that, “A View from the Bleachers” was born. In the years since, athletes, coaches and teams, from various levels of athletics, have taken turns at the lectern. The audience is us – the writer and the readers. We consume initially as fans of competition and with a keen eye on the ultimate judge and jury – the scoreboard. But beyond that final accounting is a transcendent meaning. In the competition we see ourselves – as we are or want to be - and glimpse the world - as it is, as it could be or as it should be. The experience can inspire a flood of conscience, hope, frustration or motivation – but always reflective thought that leaves residual wisdom on the human existence.
My faith in this belief and in one of the great teachers of my life – sports, has wavered recently. I never doubted that lessons were still being taught. But was anyone – or enough of us – still paying attention?
When I think back over the years, mine and those of history, many lectures stand out. In 1984, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, at the height of their powers, were growing basketball into a national behemoth. Meanwhile, a Chicago Bulls rookie and one-time cut from his high school basketball team – Michael Jordan – was preparing to inherit Bird and Magic’s crown and take the game global. He eventually handed the throne to a baby who was born in Akron, Ohio – LeBron James. For nearly 40 years, these four icons have been dropping knowledge on unselfish play, grace in the public eye and an insatiable competitive determination.
My mind then turns to football and the New England region. The Patriots have taught much over the years – hard work, dedication, team above individual and a laser focus on doing your job within a broader initiative. Ah, but there’s a dark side too. When you don’t follow the rules – Deflategate and Spygate – it violates trust, creates doubt about your accomplishments and permanently tarnishes your reputation.
Likewise, PED use cost baseball an era of great players. MLB was conspicuously disengaged while players were seduced by the fame and fortune of juicy, drug-aided performance. Now Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens roam outside of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, branded forever with the scarlet “S” for steroids. And MLB, for its lack of oversight and courage to guard the integrity of the sport, is left with a soiled record book. Roger Maris and Hank Aaron deserved better. We all deserved better.
With all due respect to The Great Courses, sports’ greatest course has been a near century-long seminar on race. Jackie Robinson, Bobby Mitchell, Serena and Venus Williams, Arthur Ashe, Doug Williams and Colin Kaepernick all reminded us that a ball doesn’t know or give a darn if it is hit or hurled by an African American or a white athlete. Their courage and accomplishments thumbed a nose at stereotypes, wagged a shameful finger at racism and made us think deeper about the world and ourselves.
The lasting lessons of these and other sports stories remain strong and relevant. Treat people right. Be unselfish. Sacrifice. Work hard. Do things the right way. Be courageous and steadfast. Dream big. Take responsibility for your actions. Don’t point fingers or deflect blame. Be a person of honesty, integrity and humility. Lead by example. Extend a hand to fellow competitors, not a fist. Win and lose with grace. Respect the game, acknowledge it is bigger than any individual and work to leave it a little better than you found it.
This is what I have learned from sports. For a few years there, I wondered if the lessons had grown antiquated and lost the crowd. Last week, America reaffirmed itself and the education its sports have offered. So now, we turn the page and life moves on. But we’ll continue to file into a classroom for courses that never end. Meet me back here often to compare notes.