The importance of respect for life in athletics
Sports used to be associated with promoting health. When Ed Bernd Jr. was growing up, he used to attend the annual Thanksgiving Day game in Atlanta in which the freshman football teams of Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia would play against each other.
The slogan for the game was “Strong legs will run so that weak ones may walk”; the proceeds went to support the Shriners’ crippled children’s hospitals. As a child with polio, Ed himself had spent a lot of time at those hospitals. If it hadn’t been for them, he might not have been able to walk today.
Eventually major sporting events were being sponsored by tobacco companies. Remember the warning on the side of every cigarette pack that cigarettes will harm your health and may kill you.
There are signs that the pendulum is swinging back. Cigarette advertising has been banned from television in the United States, and Congress is considering legislation to prevent television cameras from focusing on the cigarette ads and logos that appear at sporting events.
And then there are athletes like Jeff Gordon, who give us hope that respect and caring still have a place in athletic competition.
Use great champions as role models
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Some of the greatest athletes in the history of their respective sports have shown us, through their actions, what they consider to be really important:
• “King Richard” Petty of stock car racing fame was able to shrug off the news that he had not won his first race.
• Jack Nicklaus, the “Golden Bear” of golf, conceded a putt to ensure that a match would end in a tie, rather than giving his opponent an opportunity to humiliate himself.
• Jerry Rice said that his favorite memory of his football career was of his teammate catching the winning pass in the Super Bowl, while he himself served as a decoy.
• Muhammad Ali, the self-proclaimed “greatest” and one of the most beloved athletes in the world today, put on a great act to revive interest in boxing when nobody cared about it. His true character showed through when he gave up the “heavyweight champion of the world” competition to avoid being drafted into the army, which would mean going against his belief that he should not kill people he had no argument with.
• Mickey Mantle, speaking from his hospital room just a few weeks before his death, admitted how ashamed he was of his mistakes and encouraged people to use him as a role model of what not to do.
• NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon shining the spotlight for his first world championship onto the needs of others.
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