After weeks of the concussion and hazing and abuse stories, a ballplayer’s speech reminds Michael Kasdan of the good in sports and – more importantly – the good in our boys who are rapidly becoming men.
These past weeks have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster for those of us covering sports, here at The Good Men Project, and elsewhere.
We are parents.
We are coaches.
We are – still – boys who love games.
We love watching them. Whether it’s following our favorite NFL team (sadly, for this author, the New York Football Giants), or soaking up the drama of World Series. Whether you’re rooting for the underdog Kansas City Royals or the even-year-World-Series-winning juggernaut, San Francisco Giants.
We love playing them. Whether it’s a pick-up basketball game, tossing the pigskin on a crisp Fall day, or catching your daughter as she warms up for her softball game.
There is so much to love about sports.
But it’s a complicated – and sometimes awful – world.
We’ve been writing about athletes’committing crimes of domestic violence, and about the massive and disturbing health risks of playing the game of football – not just in college or in the pros but in high school and in youth football.
Bad behaviors, violence, abuse, and victims left in the wake. Players who are elevated because of their athletic talents, who can lack personal responsibility or accountability. There is much to be troubled by in our world of sports; really, by our world.
This past Saturday morning, after penning “How Many More Sayrevilles?,” for Good Men Project Sports – and feeling a bit enervated and upset because of it – I went with my family to the Bar Mitzvah of family friends at a local synagogue. The boy who was becoming a man on that day – in Jewish tradition – was Ryan Saurborn.
Ryan was one of the boys on my team when I coached summer baseball for our local Maplewood/South Orange Cougars. I had not stopped to think about who would be there that day, but I was thrilled to have the chance to see a large contingent of baseball kids there, boys that I had coached. There they were, looking dapper and a wee bit uncomfortable in their sports coats and suits, sitting togther in the rows at the back of the sanctuary. It made me smile inside, to see them – still good friends, still those same kids, but also stretching out, growing up, transitioning from boys to men.
Part of the deal on your Bar Mitzvah day, is you have to give a speech. Ryan’s was about personal responsibility, accountability, being a good person in this world. It was about everything that is right and good:
The people in the story of Noah were not born corrupt. Behaviors are learned. Just as people learned to be corrupt, they can also learn to be just . . . . We can all take this idea even further and recognize that each of us is personally responsible for the path we take in life. And, even if you choose the wrong path, you can always strive to do better and decide to “do the right thing.”
And it was also about baseball, about camaraderie and about giving back:
My . . . long-time passion is baseball, and I have been playing since I was five years old. Through baseball, I get to play the game that I love; have made lots of friends, learned from amazing coaches and enjoyed being a part of numerous teams.
With these ideas in mind, I wondered what I could do to help out those who love baseball as much as I do, but do not have the resources to play . . . . The purpose of the Pitch In For Baseball organization is to collect new or used baseball and softball equipment and then give them to kids in the U.S. and even around the world who cannot afford them. . . . I have collected over $500 dollars and countless pieces of equipment, not even including equipment brought by some of you here today.
Ryan’s speech that sunny morning was one of the best and most hopeful that I’ve ever heard.
It was a man’s speech.
Our boys are growing up.
(Photo Credit: Joy Yagid, Lisa Saurborn)