Kareem Calls the Shots in Sports
Four recent sports stories that caught my eye
“Kareem Calls the Shots in Sports” is a regular feature in which I select sports stories that I think help define some significant aspect of sports, whether it’s athletes breaking records or athletes speaking out or athletes making mistakes. It’s all part of better understanding why sports is so important to our culture.
Usually, I do this feature as a video so you can all enjoy my two facial expressions to their fullest. However, I have been on the road a lot lately, most recently interviewing the first Black Attorney General of the U.S., Eric Holder, onstage in front of a packed auditorium. Exhausting. So, I decided to present these four sports stories in writing.
When Good Athletes Go Bad
Phil Mickelson is one of the best golfers in the world. Yet, he won’t be back this year to defend his PGA Championship. Why? Because he joined another golf great, Greg Norman, in being paid to support Saudi Arabia’s venture into launching a golf league to rival the PGA. Mickelson stated that he was willing to overlook the Saudi’s horrible human rights record. When asked how he could support the Saudis after the CIA concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Greg Norman said, “Look, we’ve all made mistakes, and you just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.” In response, Hall of Fame golfer Karrie Webb tweeted her shock: “The little girl in me just died well and truly!! Has anyone’s childhood hero disappointed them as much as I am now??” Sports icons need to follow some sort of Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. And taking blood money from the Saudis clearly does harm.
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A 57-Year-Old Track and Field Record Is Broken
Gary Martin, a high school senior at Archbishop Wood High School, broke a sub 4-minute mile record set in 1965 by Jim Ryun. Martin came in at 3:57:98, beating Ryun’s 3:58.3 time by less than a second. Just before the race, Martin had texted his coach: "Am I crazy for thinking about trying to break 4 at PCL champs if the mile is good since the mile is first?" The coach told him he was physically ready. That is the kind of “crazy” that makes sports so exciting. It’s exciting for the athlete because they are going to push themselves to do something they’ve never done before. And it’s exciting for the fans because they get to witness that moment that is the essence of being a human being that we all share—the drive to be great. The athlete leaves with a medal and a record—and the fans leave inspired to strive.
Baseball’s Gabe Kapler Quiet Stance After Texas School Shootings Speaks Loudly
The country has been left aching and angry after the shootings in a Buffalo supermarket and Texas elementary school. We feel helpless and hopeless because we know Congress is stacked with those who will mouth platitudes but do nothing. That’s why it was so refreshing to see Gabe Kapler, manager of the San Francisco Giants, declined to take the field during the national anthem until he feels better about the direction of our country in the aftermath of the Texas school shootings. He admitted he doesn’t think it will make a big difference, but that he felt he had to take a step. To me, that was a giant step. (Update: Kapler did stand for the national anthem on Memorial Day to honor the military.)
Too Young to Retire, Too Damaged Not To?
When Tampa Bay Buccaneer guard Ali Marpet announced his retirement from football at the age of 28, a lot of fans and players were shocked. How could a pro athlete who struggled so hard for so long at his most successful point in his career. He’d already earned $37 million, with another $20 million in his final two years of his contract. But glory and money weren’t his first priorities. Health was. He explained, “I loved playing football. But one of my strongest values is health and if I’m really going to live out what’s important to me it doesn’t make sense to keep playing. There are also the unknowns of the head trauma of the NFL and how that plays out. Plus, your joints, the aches and pains that come with surgeries and all that stuff.” He’d suffered a concussion in 2020 and had other troubling health symptoms. It’s rare that someone at that point in his career makes such a sensible decision. I applaud his courage in making that choice.