Lessons from the gridiron
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To begin with, you probably remember the classic Southern Cal-Notre Dame game a couple of years ago. The Irish had the game all but won, but a last-second effort by Southern Cal scored the touchdown that provided a miracle victory. Of course, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis was disappointed, all the more so because a couple of non-calls by the officials were critical to the game's outcome. Still, he was determined to turn his disappointment into a teaching moment, as the Associated Press reported: "He told his 12-year-old son, Charlie Jr., he wanted them to walk over to the USC locker room to congratulate them on their win. 'I just wanted to let them know that I had respect for their team and the way they played and I thought that they showed a lot of character to go back and win that game,' he said. 'I thought it was a good lesson for my son.'"
Good lesson, indeed.
Then there's the case of Darryl Stingley. Remember him? He was an outstanding receiver for the New England Patriots until a vicious hit by defender Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders not only ended his career, but left him paralyzed. That was back in 1978 (during an August pre-season game) and he spent the rest of his life as a paraplegic. He was only 55 when he died on April 5 of this year.
Tatum was known for his rough style, and on the play in question he slammed into Stingley with his helmet after the receiver had caught a pass. The National Football League took no action at the time (there was not even a penalty on the play, incredibly enough), but subsequently tightened its rules.
That was small comfort to Stingley, who never talked with Tatum after the incident. According to Stingley's obituary in The New York Times, written by Frank Litsky, Tatum always defended himself. "This is the way the game is played," he said.
Stingley held no grudge, however. He kept focusing on the positive, concluding that, in order to adapt to a new way of life, he had to learn to forgive.
Ironically, Tatum developed serious physical problems of his own; diabetes led to the amputation of a leg below the knee. Still, the Times' obituary continued, Stingley refused to find a sense of justice in that news.
"You can't, as a human being, feel happy about something like that happening to another human being," Stingley said. "Maybe the natural reaction is to think he got what was coming to him, but I don't accept human nature as our real nature. Human nature teaches us to hate. God teaches us to love."
In the midst of tragedy, Darryl Stingley found the greatest lesson of all. And to his eternal credit, he wanted to be sure that the rest of us got it as well.
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Dennis Heaney is president of The Christophers
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For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, "Positive Attitude, Positive Choices," write: The Christophers, 12 East 48th St., New York, N.Y. 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.
Dennis Heaney - ,
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