Good News for the Holiday Season

December 22, 2006

We’ve heard alot this year about athletes that cheat. Stars that spit. Players that get arrested. So much has been said about what and who is wrong that we tend to forget that there were many good and heart warming sports stories this past year and that there are still heroes to worship.

How about LaDainian Tomlinson, the record setting running back for the San Diego Chargers. He is pro football’s best player and will probably earn the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. But by all accounts he is more likely an even better person. He is humble and self-effacing to a fault, never one to preen and strut. He is always genuinely quick to share the credit with his teammates and his team first and then only if pressed will he give credit to himself, even as he embarks on what may be the best year a running back has ever had.

What about the George Mason Patriots, the unheralded team from a school just outside of Washngton, DC. They made it to college basketball’s Final Four, when just about everyone said they didn’t even belong in the tournament. This squad of castoffs and after thoughts fought through the doubts and beat several of the nation’s top teams on the way to Indy. The Patriots were a real life “Hoosiers” story which fittingly concluded in the Hoosier state. And although George Mason didn’t win the championship, the team captured America’s imagination during March Madness and earned our enduring respect.

There is Roger Federer. Some of you may say Roger who? But Federer is the guy who is making it possible to enjoy men’s tennis again. He is an exquisite master of the court. Even if you don’t know much about tennis and you watch him play you know intuitively that he is simply better than the other men playing today. More importantly he is yet another humble star who doesn’t make a fuss about himself. He just plays the game. Sometimes a near perfect game. Better still is the fact that his battered opponents continue to like, respect and admire him even when he takes away all of their hopes on the tennis court.

Tiger Woods. Okay, everybody writes and talks about him. But this year was different. He lost his father and mentor to cancer. Earl Woods helped instill Tiger’s unique winning drive. He was also his son’s best friend. When Earl Woods died Tiger was devastated. Earl’s death may have lead to an unprecedented collapse on the golf course for Tiger when he missed his first cut in years at the U.S. Open. But Tiger rebounded to win an emotional British Open and the PGA and four more tournaments consecutively in the second half of the year. He bravely showed us he was human, breaking down in tears thinking about his late father after winning the British Open. He would soon after show us again with his dominant winning streak why he is probably the greatest golfer of all time.

Yes, there is a danger of being terribly disappointed these days when we lionize athletes and teams, but taking that risk is why many of us have come to love sports. We want to cherish our sports heroes. And why not. They provide us with hours of entertainment and sometimes days and even years of discussion and debate about what we saw and experienced. Alot of good guys and gals won our admiration this year. And that is indeed good news for the holiday season.