College and professional sports are very quick to abuse and distort words that otherwise would have a deeper meaning - inspirational, hero, warrior to name just a few. Growing up surrounded by sports, I didn't really notice it, but once I started working in college athletics, it became abundantly clear. Particularly when I was tempted to call a comeback effort heroic.
In contrast, today's stories do actually feature athletes who have done something inspirational, and it wasn't hitting a 32-foot jumper at the buzzer to send the game into a second overtime.
College golf doesn't garner that many headlines, especially if it's NAIA college golf. But Yahoo! Sports featured a golfer very worthy of the attention (thanks for the story tip-off, Blair). University of St. Francis' Grant Whybark had the opportunity to lock up individual and team spots in the NAIA National Championship. But Whybark did something completely against the competitive drive athletes are supposed to possess - he deliberately shanked a drive so Olivet Nazarene's Seth Doran could go to Nationals too.
Awhile back, I did a post on Natalie Randolph, the Calvin Coolidge Senior High School head football coach. She is one of a handful of women nationwide who head up high school football programs. Randolph has more than held her own in the tests administered by outsiders and a few of her own players. But what has caught the attention of the New York Times this time around is Randolph's commitment to her players in the classroom.
I'm a little sick of professional athletes who whine about how tough their lives are or who only give 10 percent a la Hanley Ramirez. They should take a page from Rafal Krolczyk, a high school boys gymnast on the Niles' West junior varsity team, featured by the Chicago Tribune. "No Fall" Rafal, a moniker he picked up from teammates, competes in the pommel horse for Niles West, an event regarded as one of the hardest events to master. None of this distinguishes Krolczyk from thousands of other high school gymnasts. What does make him stand out from the crowd is that he does this (with full support from family and teammates) despite having cerebral palsy.
A lot of athletes out there do overcome personal hardships to compete at a high level. They even made "The Blind Side" out of Baltimore Raven Michael Oher's story. Now, as a Hokie by association, I naturally view askance anything that comes out of the University of Miami. But this time I really appreciated the Miami Herald story on Saints rookie Jimmy Graham.
Signed away to a group home at 11, Graham survived a rocky childhood after being taken in by a woman who could barely afford it but couldn't walk away from him. He went on to earn dual degrees in five years from Miami while playing four years of basketball (and one year of football) where he was known for his tenacious rebounding and defense. Now with the Saints, Graham hopes to reach out to troubled kids in New Orleans.
(Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune)