Lessons From Sports
As part of Steelers Nation, every time I fly and travel through airports, I see how Steelers Nation represents. Have you ever noticed how many people wear their favorite sports team’s logo when they travel? It’s a conversation starter, a connector, a friend maker. Recently on a trip, I ran into Ed. When I saw Ed, I immediately walked up to this massive man and gave him a hug. He responded likewise. I had never met Ed before and he had never met me before, but we hugged nevertheless.
Why? We both had Steelers emblems on our clothing and wearing that logo told him that while we may be very different, Ed is an African American man, we are still brothers. No politician, school board, nobody was going to tell me that Ed and I aren’t brothers. As I saw ED on this trip a couple more times, I was able to meet his wife and hear more of his story. Sometime ago, Ed turned down a tryout for the Steelers and decided to focus on his real love, serving troubled youth. See, all Steelers fans aren’t so bad after all.
As a Pitt graduate, and as a sports fan, I was huddled by the TV set when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after making an awkward hit on the Bengals’ Tee Higgins. Almost immediately people began talking about how brutal football is and how it should be banned. Damar and many others like the Steelers former linebacker Ryan Shazier, whose career ended with a spinal cord injury after leading a tackle with his head, know the risks of their profession, but their passion and desire and love for the game erases the risks.
To them, it’s simply worth it. In contrast, on average, in a single year in the United States, 128 children die in school transportation accidents. Now, should we outlaw going to school?
Football, Hockey, Basketball, you name it, are medicine for the soul. The hurting world gathers together, united in a non-political way to cheer for their beloved teams. I would argue that Damar Hamlin’s injury was great for football like Sundays are great for Chik-fil-A. The coaches immediately chose to stop the game. The players, many strong men of faith, gathered together in the center of the field to pray, mixing home and away jerseys, holding hands, as they called upon the Lord to intervene in Damars life, and He in fact did intervene.
The integrity of these men, the honest and sincere vulnerability to go to the Creator for help, showed strength never seen on a football field before. Damar is recovering well. Ryan Shazier is walking and living a full life, using his experience to reach out to others like he could never have done before enduring his injury.
My children all participated in sports. Our schedule was hectic and we had little free time. As a lover of sports, I recognized the value of having children endure being wronged by bad calls, sitting on the bench when worse players were favored over them, learning how to win and act like it’s no surprise. I always told my football player son, who was a nationally ranked wide receiver to, after scoring a touchdown, act like he’s been in the end zone before. No stupid twerking or thumping of his chest. Simply hand the ball to the official and plan on handing it to him the next series, too.
If children learn to deal with unjust coaches, poor behavior from competitors, victories, and failures, they won’t fail when their playing field becomes the board room or a customer’s conference table. They will recall how their perseverance in that sectional game ended up in victory, that overreacting in this sales call could jeopardize the deal. Sports teaches athletes (real) life lessons.
By the time this article is published, we will know the NFL season outcome, but I really need to give a couple of shout outs to two of my favorites. Kenny Pickett of the Steelers, also a former Pitt star who broke many of Dan Marino’s records, has shown his maturity and focus in helping the Steelers end up with yet one more winning season, just a field goal away from making the playoffs. Picket went from third string QB to starter in his first season in the NFL. Talk about good examples from sports, look at the Steelers organization and look at their history of coaches. Since 1969 (53 years), the Steelers have had only three coaches. Chuck Knoll, Bill Cower, and Mike Tomlin. In his 16 years, Tomlin has never had a losing record with the Steelers.
The other shout out is to Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers. Brock was the final pick of the 2022 draft. That position is called, “Mr. Irrelevant.” Brock also started the year as the third string quarterback, but after QBs No. 1 and No. 2 were injured, Brock has won seven straight games as a starter.
When asked about the pressure of being a rookie and trying to be the first ever rookie to lead his team to the Super Bowl, Brock says, “It’s a game, and it’s my job for sure and I take it very seriously, but at the end of the day, I know that I’m not defined by the wins or losses as a person. That’s not who I am. I’m not just a quarterback. I wasn’t born to just be a quarterback and play football.” No, Brock has been trained by incredible coaches and parents to be a great Man, not a great Quarterback, but a confident leader of men.
Sports is an over-the-counter drug that is nearly guaranteed to bring on Pride, Happiness, Occasional screams (positive), Good food, Parties, and Commonality. The side effects can be (in a losing effort), Frustration, Grumbling, Occasional screams (negative), and a few more. But, after taking this “drug” and experiencing happiness for more than three hours straight, don’t call a doctor, you might just be a Steelers fan.