Character and Sports

originally Posted on Saturday, February 15, 2014 8:31 PM

Two stories from the past week in sports affect me deeply.  First came the open admission that Michael Sam of the University of Missouri is gay.  He's the best defensive player in the best college football conference in America, and he took a stand which, in American Football, is devastating.  While I played football in high school, and thought, briefly, that I wanted to play in college, I didn't enjoy the game as much as I loved other sports (wrestling, throwing, lifting).  I was simply not as willing to sacrifice for the sport as I desired to sacrifice myself for other sports.  


Football did teach me invaluable lessons about life, most importantly the idea that shutting up, listening, and doing your job is what matters first.  Once you do your job, and earn the respect of your peers, then you can talk.  But until you can do your job, keep your mouth shut.  Another lesson football taught me, cruelly, is that every weakness you have will be ridiculed, brought to the front of your character and personality, and put to a test.  While the Miami Dolphins hazing incidents are disgusting, their horror is that a man looked upon as a leader chose, purposefully, to find a player's weakness and ridicule it and highlight it rather than using his leadership to make an individual stronger.  Character, again, must come forward as the hallmark of an individual.  And in the Miami Dolphins incident, character and courage were lacking in the aggressor, the coaching staff, and across the organization.  The moral failure in professional football is highlighted by the NFL's reaction to Michael Sam of the University of Missouri.  While, truly, his sexuality doesn't matter, it's his skills as a player that make his sexuality particularly irrelevent to the other football players at Mizzou.  And it is particularly these skills that make his coming out poignant and remarkable.  He is sacrificing perhaps millions of dollars a year, and subjecting himself to ridicule in a sport often dominated by ignorance, social posturing, and cruelty.  A lesser player coming out would not be as remarkable a statement; a great player coming out is an enormous stand.  I applaud Michael Sam for his courage, and his character.  His honesty is an act of bravery unparalleled in contemporary football.    In the face of this courage, the NFL reverts to base stereotypical actions, saying that Michael Sam would disrupt the culture or cause trust problems among his fellow athletes.  The NFL speaks about integrity and character, trying to enforce characer by suspending players who break the law and drug policies.  Unfortunately, the NFL failed to put good character to the forefront this week and praise the honesty of this young man.  


I woudl also like to speak about my East Coast Gold teammate, Katie Uehlander.  Katie is a Skeleton competitor in the 2014 Sochi Olympics; she also competed in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, and was a Olympic trials competitor in Weightlifting in 2012.  Katie's trials the last four years are well known; has much video of her discussing the death of her father and her fighting off depression. Once again, this public act of courage inspires me, and it is this act of courage which make Katie a role model for my daughters (and son), much more so than her athletic ability.  Her hair also rocks.  Here's a link to a short film about Katie discussing her last five years:


And here's an article on the .04 seconds she was away from a medal:

What I like about Katie's reaction is that she's pissed.  She's hurt.  She isn't ungracious, but she shows the pain of the loss, about that difficulty, about doing your best and falling just short.  But she isn't cruel, bitter, or self-pitying.  She doesn't bluster about or blame others.  And this is a character trait I would like my lifters to emulate.  


Every day you train, every time you compete, you must do it with character.  You must strive on each lift, in your recovery, in your desire, and win each of those small moments.  Those small moments mount up, and create a base of excellence for you. Each decision in each moment creates character, and each decision in each moment creates a base for that excellenece toward which we strive.  We will fail at times, we will fall short of some goals and exceed others, but we must always be responsible for ourselves and having the world be a better place for our presence.  

Michael McKennaComment