Vontae Davis quit, you can’t

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Ten-year NFL veteran and former Pro Bowl defensive back Vontae Davis quit on his Buffalo Bills teammates on Sunday. Football is a hard a game and at the NFL level, it’s downright brutal. The acute and long-term damage done to players mentally and physically has made the entire country rethink how the game should be played, who should play and for how long.

At halftime of the Bills matchup against the L.A. Chargers on Sunday, Davis went into the locker room, showered, gathered his belongings and left the stadium. He didn’t talk to any of his teammates or coaches about his decision before leaving. The 0-1 Bills were down on the scoreboard, things didn’t look good for the second half and one its veterans and presumed team leaders had literally taken his ball and gone home.

Davis later announced his retirement on Instagram, but make no mistake, Vontae Davis quit on his team, and that’s not OK. He was certainly within his rights to walk away from football for any reason or no reason at all. The way he did it, however, was selfish and showed little concern for everyone else who had suited up on Sunday afternoon.

There are 53 players on an NFL team roster, with 46 eligible to play on game day. Davis’ actions decreased Buffalo’s number to 45. The coaches had no time to adjust their plan by scheme or personnel. Playing 10 years in the NFL is an anomaly as the average NFL career last a little over three years.

The rookies who are adjusting from the college game and the second and third-year players who looked up to Davis weren’t worth a positive word nor an explanation. When Davis quit on his team, he sullied his own reputation. Every great play he’s made, every time he gutted through an injury, all of the trust he built up over a career of taking hits and giving them – all of it vanished when he walked out on his team when they arguably needed him most.

There is a time and place for everything. The time and place to retire could have been Monday or Tuesday after meeting with teammates and coaches. The resentment and anger held by some of Davis’ teammates could have easily been an attitude of celebration and a cascade of well wishes.

Some people have applauded Vontae Davis for doing what he wanted at the moment he wanted. That’s not how life works, though. It’s not right to do what pleases you at the expense of everyone else. What if a parent decided to quit his or her job today without regard for their kids, mortgage, car payment or spouse? What if a student decided to walk out of class without the teacher’s permission?

The decisions we make in life often affect others. Even if the choice feels right in the moment, consideration must be given to family, friends, teammates and coworkers. A good decision at the wrong time can still do significant damage to a person’s reputation. A person who quits isn’t dependable. Athletes pride themselves on leaving it all out on the field. That’s a great statement for effort. Just don’t leave your relationships out there. You’ll need them long after you’ve hung up your cleats.

 

Sportsmanship Study Activities:

Vontae Davis Story Word Search (All Grades) – Vontae Davis Story Word Search 

Vontae Davis Story Discussion (Grades 6-12) – Vontae Davis Story Discussion

 

Serena Williams situation is about more than sportsmanship

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I am the Sportsmanship Guy and last weekend’s Women’s U.S. Open Final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams was right in my wheelhouse – or so I thought. This site is filled with stories about athletes losing their cool with officials, opponents and teammates.

When I watched Serena Williams confront chair umpire Carlos Ramos, alarm bells went off. An athlete or coach will not win an on-field showdown with an official. Some referees and umpires may allow more latitude than others, but it’s totally up to them. Sports lore is filled with inconsistent officiating because of the human element, so anyone can find video supporting any argument they want to make.

There was…I repeat…was a legitimate debate to be had about the interaction between Ramos and Williams and how they both affected the greatest match in Naomi Osaka’s life. That ended with the publication of a certain cartoon.

If you haven’t seen it, the Herald Sun newspaper published a cartoon showing Serena Williams jumping up and down on an already destroyed tennis racket while two characters who one could guess are supposed to be Naomi Osaka and Carlos Ramos discuss her behavior.

Ramos asks Osaka, “Can you just let her win?” The paper defends the piece as satire. It’s not. It’s racist to the core. Williams is not only shown throwing a tantrum reminiscent of a toddler, she’s also pictured as an overgrown, toothless, ape-like creature.

You cannot draw, speak of, write about or otherwise refer to black people as apes, monkeys, baboons or any other primate. It is racist behavior with roots that go back centuries. Black people were equated with apes to justify dehumanization. The criticism levied against the cartoonist and the newspaper is not political correctness gone awry.

Let me be clear: If you have a black friend and you refer to him or her as an ape, you will lose that black friend.

The cartoon shows the Haitian-Japanese Osaka as a blonde, white woman. Even the chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, a Portuguese national with a full head of hair, is depicted as a balding, white guy. The cartoon is what the women I care most about have been trying to tell me about how they feel when trying to stand up for themselves in the workplace, in social settings and in society in general.

Black women have to be fearless and docile, strong and submissive, seen and seldom heard. When a man, any man, raises his voice in frustration, his surroundings quiet down. People at least hear him out, whether they plan to address his issues or not.

Maybe Williams had a bad day. We all have them. Maybe it wasn’t just the young upstart Osaka or Ramos’ calls. Maybe it’s the constant needling of her wardrobe at tournaments or being called a man or the countless slights over a career where she’s cleared out the field of competitors multiple times.

But Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam Championships, made millions of dollars and is an international superstar. How bad could things really be? The best analogy I can make right now is to black performers of the 20th century like Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge. They headlined Las Vegas venues in front of sold out crowds, but were not allowed to stay in the hotels or eat at the restaurants where they performed.

Being black in America often means being loved for what you do and hated for who you are.

Musial Moments Pre-Game Show: Miriam Academy

Musial Moments is a fun, interactive and impactful 45-minute presentation where we motivate students to care about sportsmanship and to be good to those around them. Children are provided with a lesson on Stan’s relevance, excellence, humility and generosity. They are also shown stories from previous Musial Awards so they understand that you don’t need money, power or position to make a positive difference in your school, community or on your team.

We decided to record a short pre-game show before a recent school assembly at Miriam Academy in St. Louis. Check it out and let us know what you think. To book a Musial Moments assembly for your school or youth organization, please call 314-345-5130 or email salexander@stlsports.org.

What would Dr. King say about the content of our character?

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From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech entitled, “Normalcy, Never Again.” It is famously known as King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The part where King repeats “I have a dream” is what’s known as a whoop (pronounced hoop) in Black Baptist preaching circles.

This style of preaching shows the minister giving instruction on a particular topic. The early part of King’s speech is a historical and economic lesson on race in America. His whoop is aspirational, meant to inspire the listener to rise above and grow beyond the facts he presented earlier in the sermon.

If King had given this same speech in a church setting, he would have opened the doors of the church and invited the audience to come to Christ by letter from their former church, as a candidate for baptism, or by Christian experience. For most of the last 55 years, activists, scholars, politicians and citizens of all stripes have asked the question, “Has Dr. King’s dream been realized in America?”

The answer is no. Full stop. No qualifier. In many ways, we’re not trying anymore. No one asks about Dr. King’s dream being realized these days. We don’t even give the obligatory and often patronizing markers of progress. Americans have become dangerously tribal. Our country is like the most crazed fans of our favorite sports team. It doesn’t matter what happens. It doesn’t matter how we get it done. As long as we win, everything we do is fine.

Dr. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The words sound awesome, but character is hard. What does it say about the character of people who use skin color to decide who moves up, who’s kept down, who’s set free, who’s held captive and who lives or dies?

Colorblindness must give way to human-sightedness. We have to see people as human, not as players on a team to be defeated, but as members of the same team, trying to figure all of this out together. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, man or woman, rich or poor, or choose not to check any boxes or wear any labels, I promise you this one thing: As sure as you arrived in this world, you are leaving here. It’s just a matter of when and how. For this reason alone, we are distinctly and inseparably human.

What does any of this have to do with sportsmanship? Everything. At its foundation, sportsmanship is about how we treat people. A football doesn’t care about your integrity. Showing respect to a basketball is just silly.

When the trophies tarnish and fall apart, when the stadium lights go out, when our lights go out, the only thing that matters is how we treat each other. Dr. King’s dream will be realized one day, but only when we work as hard to build humanity as we do our bank accounts. Dr. King’s dream will be realized when we value championship character more than a championship trophy. In that moment, we will all hear the liberating sound of freedom…ringing.

 

Sportsmanship Study Activities:

Dr. King Character Puzzle (All Grades) – Dr. King Character Puzzle

Realizing The Dream Worksheet (Grades 6-12) – Realizing The Dream Worksheet

 

John McCain knew the importance of sportsmanship

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America lost a true hero, patriot and statesman on Saturday with the passing of Senator John McCain. He was 81.

Other outlets will chronicle his military and congressional career much better than can be done here. This space is dedicated to sportsmanship and John McCain was a good sport.

He attended the 2009 NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix and was asked to speak to a group of young basketball players before the event. Please keep in mind this took place only three months after the 2008 Presidential Election. Here’s what he said to the kids as first reported by the Deseret News:

“I went through a pretty tough game for a couple of years myself and didn’t win, but I’d also like to point out that the person who did win deserves the support of all Americans,” said McCain, who lost the presidential election to Barack Obama in November. “And I think that’s how we have to treat our opponents. We play as hard as we can, we work as hard as we can. We do everything that we can, but when the game is over, then show the respect and sportsmanship and support, in this case.”

Senator McCain put country before himself and understood that his opponents are not his enemies. America’s greatness lies in her people and John McCain was one of the greatest.

Rest in Peace, Senator and Godspeed.

 

 

Lebron James gives grounded, realistic speech to youth team

Almost no one gets two posts in a row, but LeBron James is on a roll. In the following video posted by D-Rich TV on Instagram, LeBron gives a seemingly dejected youth squad a hard lesson about what it means to know your role and be a team player.

Yes, LeBron had to be edited. No, he didn’t quite use the language recommended for people who work with kids. However, his message, in this case, is no less effective. He’s in the circle with the kids. LeBron has his arms around them and they’re looking him right in the eye; soaking up everything he’s giving them.

The kids know his message is coming from a place of love. They have no doubt he wants them to be successful and he cares about them. Before a coach utters a word, the kids have to know this. They have to know you love them. They have to know you understand what troubles them and that you’re telling them the truth.

LeBron accomplishes in 30 seconds what many coaches don’t master in decades working with kids. Watch and learn as King James holds court.

LeBron is the greatest sports role model of all time

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With the opening of his I Promise school in Akron, Ohio this week, LeBron James solidified his legacy as the greatest sports role model of all time. LeBron is the role model Charles Barkley told us he wouldn’t be. He’s the role model Shaquille O’Neal was too silly to be and Kobe Bryant was too selfish to be.

LeBron is the role model Tim Duncan was too quiet to be. He’s the role model Tiger is too reclusive to be and Magic is too corporate to be. LeBron is the role model Cam Newton is too immature to be, Floyd Mayweather is too greedy to be, and, quite frankly, Tom Brady doesn’t have to be.

LeBron is the role model Michael Jordan just flat out refused to be.

To be fair, every one of the athletes mentioned above is passionate about something other than their chosen sport. Their advocacy, however, doesn’t rise to the level of the man nicknamed “King James.” Athletes care about education, criminal justice reform, and poverty among other things. Any of these issues is a heavy lift. LeBron has taken them all on.

LeBron is an active supporter of the Children’s Defense Fund and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America while running a fully-functioning charitable organization of his own – aptly named the LeBron James Family Foundation. Graduates of LeBron’s I Promise school have the opportunity to earn a full scholarship to the University of Akron. He’s already pledged $42 million to the project which could see at least 2,300 young people benefit.

He’s also never been afraid to stand up and take a side on controversial issues. LeBron has made his voice heard relative to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and other high-profile cases. Whether one agrees with every position he takes or not, he does take a position and uses his platform to draw attention to the people and issues he holds dear.

An excuse made for athletes over time has been they don’t want to risk their contracts and endorsements by taking a stance that might alienate fans. LeBron doesn’t fear fan backlash. His principles don’t adjust according to the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Oddly enough, LeBron the philanthropist doesn’t conflict with LeBron the brand. He’s the face of the NBA, his apparel sells well and he’s expanded into television production.

Some will disagree with this assessment and point toward Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and other luminaries of the Civil Right Movement as greater role models. Those times were different as Ali, Brown, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had each other and multiple organizations backing them up. LeBron is in his playing prime, his earning prime and often, he stands alone on social issues.

And Ali wasn’t as loved when he was an active athlete as LeBron is now. Ali’s legend had an inverse relationship to the power of his voice. In short, people revered him more as he got sicker and quieter. LeBron will dunk on your favorite player during the game and dare anyone else to touch a hair on his head afterwards.

He defends the marginalized and his peers. LeBron is also a devoted family man to his wife and three children. He represents the kind of activist, fierce competitor and role model today’s adults should have had 30 years ago.