Let me make this clear from the outset, I am a Mets fan, but I have nothing but admiration for New York Yankee great Mariano Rivera. He has always been a class act, and now that he has gone down with a season-ending ACL injury to his right knee, he has risen to face the situation as would be expected of a legend. Indeed, the cream does rise to the top.
Mired in the center of the country in Kansas City instead of at home in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, Rivera still came out and faced the swelling crowd of reporters with his characteristic good humor and genial attitude. He handled the questions deftly, and how tiring they must be to a man standing on crutches, but Rivera answered those reporters and never wavered. He also made it clear that it’s not over, not by a long shot.
In recent times we have seen the implosion of the professional athlete. I call them “sports brats,” and this runs through all sports. Professional athletes tend to forget that kids are watching them, and as hard as it is to face, every moment can be a teachable one for impressionable youth. We like to gloss over the ugly side of sports to fit our needs, but for every Mean Joe Greene handing a kid a Coke moment (which was, of course, an advertisement), we get much more of the Amar’e Stoudemire smashing his hand, and that is not what sport is all about.
Somewhere along the way we have lost sportsmanship. Perhaps this is an archaic concept now, but I think it still applies, perhaps now (in this amazingly fast-paced, technological world) more than ever. While kids get the idea that the only thing that matters is winning no matter what the cost, the truth is that how you play the game is certainly just as (if not more) important now. In a few seconds, an ugly scene can go viral, available for the world to see again and again on YouTube.
We have lost sight of civility and the idea that rules structure a game, as do codes of conduct fitting a professional athlete. We have Stoudemire losing his cool and ruining his team’s chance in the playoffs, the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, Tiger Woods destroying his family and career, Roger Clemens (and all the other stars linked to steroids) letting kids think it’s okay to take performance enhancing drugs, Serena Williams cursing out a line judge, and the list goes on and on. These sports brats do not embody anything but the allegiance to the almighty me; oh, and for those kids watching, who cares?
That is why Rivera leaves a great impression with his work ethic, his demeanor, and his embodiment of sportsmanship. You can only hope for the sport and for the man that he is right, that he will be back and pitch again. This way he can go out on his own terms and not with an injury beyond his control. It is a long road ahead for Rivera – it’s bottom of the ninth, bases are loaded, and the best hitter in the league is at the plate, but remember this is Mariano Rivera, a legend in his own time and a class act all the way!
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