We love our athletes. Â I know I do. Â I had posters on my wall growing up of Michael Jordan, Frank Thomas, Pavel Bure and of course Kathy Ireland. Â The latter is another story for another time, but I digress. Â We idolize them and even put together our own little game of “American Idol” together to select our favorite. Â We even go back and forth between teams because we may follow a particular player or buy new jerseys when they change their number. Â With every generation there are players we look up to as kids and even as we grow into adults with a kids heart, we continue to follow them even though they are not what they were in their prime. Â But as I look around at yesterdays and todays athletes, I believe there is a vast hole of this “Idle” winner in the world todayâ€¦ if youâ€™re looking in the wrong place.
There once was a time, my father often tells me about, that players were respected and respectable.Â You could fall in love with a player and watch him for his whole career, more times than none, play with the same team. Â They had integrity. Â They played hard. Â They didn’t complain about contracts or piles of cash. Â You could call this integrity. Â I said it twice because I know your astonished when I mention the words athletes and integrity together in today’s world. Â You could call it sporting. Â I call my fathers memories fascinating, like a bed time story of a far away land that players played for the love of the game, their team, and their fans, not “I gotsta get mine.” Â Is this place actually true?
â€œWhere can I find them now Daddy?Â Where?â€ I asked him as any 32 year-old man would ask when he sits on his fatherâ€™s knee.
My father wrote down, â€œYou have to look hard son.Â Theyâ€™re almost extinct.Â Theyâ€™re chameleons, but keep looking, youâ€™ll find one eventuallyâ€, he replied.
My father mentions names like Whitey Ford and Meadowlark Lemon.Â Bob CousyÂ and Bob Feller.Â They sounded like mythological names alongside Sasquatch and Lochness, but were actually real men. Â Men like Bill Russell did have some likeness to Sasquatch, with size and hair, but my father assured me he wasnâ€™t Big Foot.Â I marveled at Whitey Ford who played his entire 18 year career with the same team.Â This canâ€™t be possible? Â You mean I donâ€™t have to buy FOUR Whitey Ford jerseys?
My father also never mentioned drugs in his sport memories either unless he was talking about beer and cigarettes.Â Those were the drugs of choice in locker rooms and for ball players of that day. Â Heck, doctors said smoking was good for you so of course you smoked. Â You never heard of roids or androstene. Â These drugs replaced the words “heart” and “will” through most recent years.Â The players my father mention played with this heart, as well as broken bones and torn muscles. Â They didn’t sit out for turf toe and blisters. Â Bobby “Boomer” Baun played with a broken leg in the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals. Â A broken leg. Â And scored the flippin’ game winning OT goal! ON SKATES?! Â I said a BROKEN LEG! Â These guys could play and play they did.
Now my father turned to me, with the pain in his face due to what my 180lb frame was doing to his leg, and wrote to me, â€œNow find a player sonâ€.
Wow. Â Really? Â I need to find a player?Â There are so many, who do I pick?Â Itâ€™s like American Idol and Iâ€™m widdling down the contestants. Â Magic? Roy? Farve? Bonds? Â As I cycle through the players and write them down, let me tell you about my father in the mean time.
My father is a hard worker.Â Always has been.Â He gets up every morning at 6am and reads his devotional.Â He makes breakfast and kisses my mother goodbye as she walks out the door to her job as a teacherâ€™s aide.Â Then he starts to work.Â Not the work heâ€™s always done.Â He was once Chief Engineer of the Water and Gas Department for the city he’s lived in for the last 28 years.Â He holds a Bachelors in Aeronautical Engineering and a Masterâ€™s in Mathematics. Â Pretty much the smartest person I’ve ever known. Â Heâ€™s spoke in front of dignitaries and and taught aviation classes.Â Now he folds laundry or works on the yard.Â He cleans the house and other less rÃ©sumÃ© building activities.Â He does love his birds. They come right up to him everyday like Ace Ventura, just minus the hair.
I wander back to my list and see the name Alex Rodriguez.Â Wow, what a hitter!Â 3x AL MVP!Â Over 600 Home-runs! How about him? But like a bad smell that lingers around and you have no clue where its coming from, the word steroids finds its way to my nose.Â He admitted to using them and a large question mark flies over my head.Â I scratch him off the list and continue pondering my contestants.
Now I learned everything I know about sports from my father.Â He taught me how to defend, pass, dribble, shoot and score. Â Of course my dad is old school, so in that order.Â My father swam in college and can play some mad bball and baseball.Â He was also known for hustling people at billiards and bowling growing up in New York and played stick ball with future New York Yankees in the early 50â€™s.Â Not many can beat him with his 6 degrees of separation to Mantle, Maris, Yogi and even the aforementioned Whitey Ford.
Itâ€™s about 4pm and he takes a nap on the floor, since the day has just began for his 68 year-old body.Â He heads off to work at 5pm, everyday, to work as custodian at his local church.Â He cleans floors, fixes doors and make sure everything is in working order. Â He does all of this with a smile on his face and not one complaint.Â He locks up, takes out the trash and leaves at well after 9 most nights.
Hold on.Â Another name on my list.Â Kobe Bryant! Â Now that’s my player! Â 5 time NBA Champion!Â MVP of the league! Scoring champ! One of the greatest ever.Â You canâ€™t get much better than that right? Â Then again a few more words come up in his biography.Â Rape.Â Adultery.Â But heâ€™s a sure fire Hall of Famer?Â What went wrong?Â Another contestant booted off.
My father comes home after a long day to my mother as heâ€™s done so for the last 38 years.Â Three kids, two cars, one marriage, 38 years.Â Sheâ€™s sometimes already in bed as he opens up a beer, which he never drinks.Â I think he just likes the thought of having one close by just in case of a nuclear war, heâ€™ll have his beer. Â He crashes on the floor in his favorite position watching whatever is on his 25â€³ TV since heâ€™s unable to find the remote nor use it, but he doesnâ€™t care.
Thatâ€™s my father.Â After 68 years he does all that with integrity and happiness even though he had a stroke 16 years ago that left him disabled, out of a job and unable to speak, probably for the rest of his life.Â He continues to do it and WILL ALWAYS do it with respect.Â He taught my brothers and I to play sports and play life, yes play life, with respect.Â You give respect, you get respect. Â â€œYes, sirâ€ and “No, sir”. Â You work hard regardless of pay and go above and beyond without being told.
So again I look down at my list:
Patrick Roy? domestic abuse.
Barry Bonds?Â steroids.
Michael Jordan?Â infidelity.
Pete Rose?Â cheating.
O.J Simpson?Â murder.
Even Bill Russell divorced twice.
Is there anyone I can pick?
Iâ€™m at my whits end with this cruel and twisted version of “America’s Idle” and I try to think back on my own good memories in sports and the name Meadowlark Lemon comes back to me as earlier mentioned. Â You know, I met Meadowlark once with my father, mother and my two brothers in Charlotte, North Carolina.Â At the time I had vague clue of who he actually was. Â I was 11 at the time and he was tall, so I figured he was a basketball player.Â Anyone that tall was always a basketball player when you’re 11.Â I donâ€™t remember much of that exchange with Mr. Lemon. Â A picture.Â A signature on a napkin from inside the Cracker Barrel. Â A smile and a few kind words. Â But I do remember him saying to us, which I found out was one of his favorite phrases years later, â€œYou can be anything that you can imagine.â€Â What advice from a Hall of Famer who played ball with Presidents, dazzled millions and is now anÂ ordained minister. Â I found the answer to my fatherâ€™s question, â€œPick one.â€ in Meadowlarkâ€™s quote.
I pick my father.