Becoming a True Champion Chat
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Danny Catalano, a student athlete with autism, a young man with limited playing time (only when the second and third strings were called upon), was about to get his chance. You see Danny is a very supportive individual, always giving positive feedback to his teammates, whether they did well or not. The kind of kid who patted you on the back as you walked off the field, one who was always there for his teammates when they needed him.
So in the face of individual glory, Dan Leach took it upon himself to place the interest of another above himself; how rare is that today (Tiger, you listening???). And with his family looking on in tearful amazement, Danny Catalano trotted onto the field to receive a well-earned gift from Dan and his teammates as he carried the ball across the goal line within the next two plays for a touchdown. (Complete story from Chicago Parent: Football team rallies for teammate with autism by Liz DeCarlo)
Maybe it's just me, but the Tiger Woods apology (and the aftermath of opinions that followed), the one that took up so much air time Friday, the 19th of February, (and the tale that has dominated all news venues for over a month), simply pales in comparison to the unselfish and inspirational story detailed above. Now that is truly a noteworthy and newsworthy story, yet, it's not all over newspapers and dominating the media like Tiger's apology, and the rest of his fiasco.
Aside from the Tiger Woods scandal, it is almost mind boggling to think about the amount of unethical behavior and poor character choices that have occurred by high level athletes just over the last ten or so years. Even a sophomore in high school knows how to set a better, more positive example for others to follow than do many of our professional athletes whose influence is much farther reaching, something the media itself and the support of endorsements help make possible for them.
Yes, a better more positive example for others, something sorely missing from many elite athletes today. So what gives, do we accept statements like Charles Barkleys that "they", as in elite/professional athletes, should not be expected to be anyone's role model, or is it something that should come with the territory - an unwritten rule that because of its long-term possible benefits should be accepted by all to whom it applies.
I suppose there are two very diverse perspectives on this issue that should be examined before one can decide on which side of the fence one stands.
First, because of the status and position that elite and professional athletes hold (or anyone else whose visibility can truly effect change and impact others), a status and position given to them by society as a whole, that they should feel a sense of obligation to set good examples for others through positive character choices and act accordingly. That what they do off the field of play has as much, if not more, to do with what they do on it regarding who they really are and what they represent to others. And because they do represent the pinnacle of achievement within the endeavors that they have chosen, that they understand, realize and accept the importance their role can play in the life of so many who look up to them. That they should look at this aspect of their position and status with honor and respect, just like the honor and respect that society gives them (whether right or wrong) through the fame and fortune they so readily accept. Basically, that with "athletic greatness," or any greatness for that matter, comes immense responsibility.
It is not that they must live by a higher behavioral standard than anyone else, (all should aspire to such), but that their status and position offers them an opportunity to benefit many that others don't have, thus, making all that they do more important and impactful.
From the opposite perspective, the status and position that these individuals hold should have no obligation or expectation of behavior whatsoever. That they are not and should not be looked at as role models for our youth, for anyone, nor should it be a part of their responsibility. That just because society places them on a pedestal, holding them in high regard, creates and provides enormous visibility to the world for them, and offers them great opportunity for fame and financial reward, that that does not obligate them to give anything back other than the entertainment value they give through what they do. The "playing of the game" is exactly what they are being paid to do; it should begin and end there. That their behavior off the field is irrelevant to anything they do on it, and when society puts the type of burden on them that we are speaking of here, it actually sets up inequities between them and others by forcing them to live by a higher standard than anyone else. Basically, that "athletic greatness" is just that, athletic greatness and nothing more.
It is not that they are using their celebrity status for benefits not offered to others and then copping out on contractual responsibilities, but that these so-called responsibilities are fabrications that should not exist at all.
No matter which of the above two positions you subscribe to, I am sure you can pick out the one that best fits the message laid out by Dan Leach, Danny Catalano, and the Downers Grove South sophomore football team at the beginning of this piece.