As we reflect on things this Thanksgiving weekend what do we have to be thankful for in sport? 2011 has been the year of the scandal for college athletics. The Fiesta Bowl cover-up of financial wrongdoings. Ohio State football team's tattoo scandal was followed up by a lack of reporting and the firing of their head coach. University of Miami football players received cash and other benefits from boosters. The ongoing abuse cases at Penn State and Syracuse continue to surprise and disappoint us with each new revelation.
In hockey the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, all considered "tough guys" and "fighters" has raised questions about legitimacy of fighting and the stress that is placed on these role players, and the potential for concussions to have played a role in their deaths. Concussions, drug abuse including steroids, lockouts and fighting over billions of dollars (NFL, NBA) has left many sports fans frustrated and not very thankful.
It is easy to become distraught with the state of sport in recent years. I know I have at times. I see the angry discussion posts, "Another entitled athlete doing what he wants." There seems to be a new story each day that shows how sport has lost perspective. Not inspiring to say the least.
I guess I have learned that we should not always be looking for inspiration from professional and collegiate athletes. Certainly there are many good people doing the right things, but they are overshadowed by those that are not. Maybe it's time to change the focus. It may be that the more inspiring stories are in your neighborhood and even on your street. The high school or junior athlete that quietly trains every day without guarantee of scholarship or big contract, but instead for the love of the game, for the chance to play, for the school, for the team, and for his or her friends is to be appreciated.
This is not to say that high school and club programs are free from politics or inappropriate behavior. We see the issues at this level, as well. However, many of our young athletes are making good decisions every day. And, many of our programs at the high school, club, and recreational levels are doing things the right way.
On this Thanksgiving weekend let's enjoy the deluge of great professional and collegiate sporting events. At the same time we must recognize those young athletes that run sprints, lift weights, tackle the books, and make to bed by curfew. We have stories of inspiration all over this country - we just need to look a little closer to home.