A True Sports Hero — And A Mentsch

It’s getting hard to find role models in sports these days.  Especially in the National Football League, where stars such as Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Greg Hardy all have been suspended in recent months for shocking acts of domestic violence.

Most recently, of course, has been Deflategate and its repercussions.  Tom Brady, the beloved and Hall Of Fame-worthy quarterback of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, stands accused of cheating by deliberately under-inflating the air in footballs he used in a playoff game.  A report released last week  found it “more likely than not” that Brady conspired with his equipment managers to doctor the balls.

While certainly far less egregious than the violent assaults of Ray Rice and company, Brady’s conduct (if you believe the Wells Report, which the New England Patriots–and most of greater Boston–dispute) continues a disturbing trend in which our sports heroes fail to live up to our hopes and aspirations.  From A-Rod to Lance Armstrong, athletes keep falling from grace and shattering the pedestals we, as society, erect for them.

Back in 1993, NBA all-star Charles Barkley made headlines across America when he proclaimed: “I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”  Perhaps we should have been listening more seriously to Barkley’s advice.  And the advice of our own tradition.  After all, Judaism is quite specific in the role of parents in raising their children.  The Talmud, in Kiddushin 29a, entrusts parents with providing their children with a bevy of knowledge, from Torah to learning a trade to helping the child find a spouse. Perhaps we have been too eager to outsource heroism and role-modeling to external sources like sports figures instead of embodying and evoking these virtues in ourselves.

Which is why a recent story about Turner Sports broadcaster Ernie Johnson is so striking.  Recently, at the 36th Sports Emmy Awards, Johnson,the host of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” won the top prize for Outstanding Studio Host.  Rather than expressing joy and self-reverence in this moment of triumph or reciting a long list of thank-yous, as most Emmy award winners do, Johnson instead called up Taelor and Sydni Scott, daughters of longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott.  Scott, a beloved anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter and a fellow nominee for Outstanding Studio Host, died on January 4, 2015, after a long battle with cancer.

“This belongs to Stuart Scott,” Johnson told the girls as he gave them his award. “This is your Emmy.”

Johnson’s virtue in handing over his award to Scott’s daughters is precisely what heroism–whether on the gridiron or at home–is all about.  Inspiring us to be better and do better; connecting ourselves with something greater than ourselves.  As a parent, the first thing I did when I heard about Johnson’s valor was to tell my kids. It’s the least I could do.




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