First, let me introduce myself. Hey there, I’m Todd. How ya doing? Good, cool, yeah, me too. Weird day so far, huh? Michigan kills BYU, UT just can’t hold on against Florida. Yeah, well, at least there’s UFC tonight. Anyway, let me tell you a bit about why I’m writing, and why, hopefully, you’ll continue to read in the future.
So I’m going to be writing about sports. Makes sense, right? A sports site. A damn fine one, too. Thanks Raphael for bringing me on, and thanks to Lee for recommending me. I’ll try to offend and deeply disappoint you both. Wait. Not quite. Reverse that. (Shout out to Willy Wonka; you’ll see many odd references in the future; do try to keep up).
So, why write about sports? Because I love sports (as indicated in the title. Right now you’re mesmerized; you’re thinking, “Wow, dude doesn’t miss a trick.”. Yeah, well, we’ll see.) So, back on topic. Why, Todd, *why* do you love sports?
It isn’t the winning, it’s the effort for the team – the team which we see as the family. We read about sisters who give kidneys to brothers, children taking in their parents. We know these people; often, we are these people. Of course these everyday acts of heroism are greater by far, but we can all share the sports hero in the moment. Here are my three favorite examples.
Kirk Gibson gave his all for his family in 1988. For those of you who somehow don’t know this story, in 1988 Kirk Gibson was the indomitable leader of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The MVP played all-out, like the former tight end he in fact was. Unfortunately, that can leave you dinged up. After two huge homers keyed the Dodgers’ win over the Mets in the LCS, Gibson was so banged up he was scratched for the World Series.
Or so the world thought. Even manager Tommy Lasorda assumed Gibby was too hurt to play, with a sprained right knee and pulled left hamstring. Gibson, ever the competitor, got himself ready regardless, spending the game between the clubhouse and the trainer’s room. On hearing Vin Scully announce he wasn’t available (after all, he wasn’t on the bench), Gibby strapped an ice bag to his swollen knee and hobbled to the dugout. After Mike Davis worked Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley for a miraculous walk, Gibson limped to the plate to a huge roar from the Dodger Stadium crowd. Fouling off tough fastballs and sinkers, laying off sliders that just miss the corner, Gibby is waiting for a backdoor slider. And gets it. He reaches out and yanks the ball well over Jose Canseco’s head in right, and the Dodgers have taken Game One against the heavily favored Oakland A’s. Gibson’s homer may have only won the first game of that Series, yet it set the tone for his team and the Series, as the inspired Dodgers went on to take the World Championship. Gibson’s home run is the iconic moment of that decade in sports, one of the truly great moments in the history of baseball.
Japanese gymnast Shun Fujimoto did much the same in the 1976 Olympics. Sprained knee, pulled hamstring? Child’s play; Fujimoto came through for his team, his family, with a broken kneecap. Battling the powerful USSR for the team gold in Men’s Gymnastics, Japan needed every possible fraction of a point. Wrapping up his floor routine, Fujimoto flet his knee give way. Knowing his team’s plight, and not wanting his teammates to be distracted, he told no one, not his coach nor the trainer. He completed the pommel horse (and yes, you have to fling yourself off the horse and stick your landing), scoring 9.5 of 10 points. Next up, the rings. Eight feet in the air. Fighting through the pain, Fujimoto completed his routine with a triple twisting somersault, and stuck the landing. His knee buckled a bit, but he did not, as he pulled a 9.7 of 0, his best score ever.
He had also now dislocated his broken kneecap and tore ligaments. Finally, his Olympics competition was over. However, his points helped create the tiny four-tenths point winning margin which gave Japan the gold medal. His incredible effort may have helped his family win overall gold in gymnastics, but what reverberates in our mind is that rock-solid landing, not the medals.
I’ve been talking about team as family, but let’s look at a real family relationship now. Remember who won the Men’s 400 meter race in 1992 Olympics? I’ll be damned if I remember either; I had to look it up – but I’ll never forget the sight of Derek Redmond’s father Jim helping him limp across that finish line.
Derek Redmond was a world-class sprinter who seemed to be snake-bitten when the Olympics came around. He’d had to withdraw just minutes before the 400 meter race in Seoul in 1988, due to an Achilles injury. He fought back through multiple surgeries, and had won gold on the 4 X 400 relay team just the year before in the World Championships. Finally, this was his time. He’d run the fastest time in his first heat, won the quarter-final, and was poised to almost certainly medal. Then in the semi-final heat, with just 175 meters to go, he heard a pop. Yes, heard it. His right hamstring was gone. He hopped a few times, then just fell to the track. In the stands, his father Jim rushes down to the track to see his son. The race seems over, but not quite. Not for Derek Redmond.
Determined to finish on his terms, he gets up, waves off the medical staff and their gurney, and begins hobbling toward the finish line. By now his father has pushed his way though the throng, jumps the railing and dodges security guards, shouting “That’s my son!” He reaches Derek on the track and wraps an arm around his waist. Together, they walk 120 painful, wrenching meters, until Jim lets his son go two steps away from the finish, and Derek crosses the line to the biggest cheers of the entire competition. As a footnote, Linford Christie eventually won the gold – and remains a footnote, as the world still celebrates the true achievement of Jim and Derek Redmond.
That is sports at its finest. At its core, sports isn’t about who’s best, or who wins; it’s about how we rise to be our best for our team, our family. How do you rise when everything is against you, when you’re at your lowest moment? Sports isn’t about wins on the scoreboard, it’s about wins in life. We fall, we get up. And it is in those moments we all win.