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When sports bring out the best in us

When we think of sports today, too often we think of words such as "greed" and "selfishness" and "arrogance." The sports world is rife with whiners and cheaters — those who cheat on the field (steroids), those who cheat off it ( Tiger Woods) and those schools that cheat to get recruits. We have athletes who we know did wrong ( Michael Vick), who we think did wrong ( Ben Roethlisberger) and who we wonder if they did wrong ( Lance Armstrong). But it's not all bad. There are good people in sports, good people who teach us valuable life lessons. There are athletes who embody the positive virtues in life and make us think of words such as "honesty" and "humility" and "forgiveness." So today, we use such words and give you examples of athletes who make us think of such words.


In April, Brian Davis was in a playoff with a chance to earn his first PGA Tour victory. But he called a two-stroke penalty on himself, which gave the victory to another golfer. What did Davis do wrong? Get this, he ticked a loose reed with his golf club during a backswing. Davis, a 35-year-old skin-cancer survivor, isn't the first golfer to call a penalty on himself, and he won't be the last. It's what golfers do. Still, it's honorable.


You never hear a bad thing about Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter on or off the field even though he plays shortstop for one of the most famous sports teams in the world in the biggest media market in the country. While other star athletes get mixed up in scandals or act like creeps with women or use drugs, Jeter, one of the most high-profile athletes on the planet, has stayed in the spotlight on the field but out of it off the field.


Pat Tillman paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving his country overseas after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He gave up his career as a well-paid and pampered professional football player to join America's fight against terrorism, and it cost him his life. Many of us call ourselves patriotic. But how many of us would have been willing to do what Tillman did for our country?


Dick Vitale turned his caffeinated personality into a career as a college basketball broadcaster for ESPN. He could spend his off time lying on the beach and counting his money. Instead, he has tirelessly worked to raise money for cancer research. His recent Dick Vitale Gala raised more than $1 million. And this isn't renting a ballroom and making a few phone calls. Listen to Vitale speak about this subject and you can tell it's more than a passion. It's an obsession. This is a guy who has perspective of what's important.


After Jim Joyce blew the call and Armando Galarraga's entrance into history Wednesday, he could've holed up in a room and refused all comment. Instead, Joyce immediately admitted his error. He apologized publicly and personally to Galarraga and the Tigers. He broke down in tears the next day on the field, showing he wasn't just another cold, robotic umpire. He was a well-respected umpire who now has even more respect because he did something so few who make public mistakes do — he said, "I was wrong. I'm sorry."


When umpire Jim Joyce made his awful call to cost him a perfect game Wednesday, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had every right to be angry, bitter and critical. Instead, he showed class, forgiveness and, most of all, grace by showing empathy for Joyce and saying that, "Nobody's perfect. Everybody's human." Galarraga's grace during and after the game said so much more about Galarraga than a perfect game ever could. The people of Detroit and angry baseball fans around the country followed Galarraga's inspiring lead and forgave Joyce.


Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy has gone through success and failure on the field. He has battled racism. Off the field, he has endured personal tragedy with the loss of his son. Through it all, Dungy has maintained a public demeanor of class and, well, dignity. His coaching career is over, but he continues to make an impact with countless charities, ministries and associations.


Oprah Winfrey once described former tennis player Andrea Jaeger as a superstar turned superhero. The antithesis of stereotypical spoiled brat young tennis star, Jaeger saved much of her career earnings and started an outdoors camp for children with cancer. Jaeger has gone on to become an Anglican nun and continues to brighten the days of children fighting cancer.


An Indianapolis girls JV softball team that hadn't lost a game in more than two years forfeited a game this spring against a school just starting a program filled with many players who had never played softball and had no idea how to play. Instead of crushing their opponents, they forfeited so they could spend the afternoon instructing the opposing novice players how to play the game.


Former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn does more than lend a helping hand. He helps build and give away homes to single-parent families. No one asks him to. He doesn't have to. He just does it because he can. Wouldn't the world be great if everyone acted this way?


Bucs running back Cadillac Williams suffered a knee injury so severe, some wondered if he would ever be able to walk normally, let alone play football. He put his fears aside, pushed through the excruciating pain to rehabilitate. He returned … then tore up his other knee. No one would blame Williams if had just walked away for good. Instead, after playing last season, he is talking about being a Pro Bowl pick next season.


Extremely disappointed while driving home after his Stanley Cup-favorite Washington Capitals were just eliminated from the playoffs after blowing a 3-1 series lead in April, forward Brooks Laich pulled over to help a woman and her teenage daughter broken down on a dangerous stretch of interstate with a flat tire. While wearing his expensive suit, Laich changed the tire for the women, who, it turned out, were huge Caps fans driving home from the game. The best part of this story is that Laich never told anyone. It was the fans who spread word of the story.


It happened two years ago, but there is no expiration date for the good feelings brought about by the act of the Central Washington University softball players who carried an opposing player around the bases after she hit a homer but severely injured her knee rounding first base. The videotape of that extraordinary display of sportsmanship should be shown to every youth-league team in the country before the start of every season.

When sports bring out the best in us 06/05/10 [Last modified: Sunday, June 6, 2010 1:32pm]
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