Friday, July 17, 2015

1 Hero, 3 Thoughts on the 2015 ESPYs

A friend's wife died two weeks ago after a long battle against breast cancer. What solace can words possibly offer in the wake of loss? I found some, probably more for me than for him in the message given at the 2014 ESPYs by the late Stuart Scott. He said,
When you die, that does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live. So live, live, fight like hell. And when you get too tired, down, rest and let someone else fight for you.
Stuart Scott was the 2014 recipient of the Jimmy V Award, also called the "Jim Valvano Award for Perseverance." He died of stomach cancer but five months later.

To me, Coach V put the ESPY awards ceremony on the map; he was the first recipient of the Arthur Ashe award. His speech was so moving—he urged people "Don't give up, don't ever give up" —and his legacy so powerful that ESPN created another ESPY in his honor. 

As written on Wikiepdia, the "ESPY Award (short for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) is an accolade presented by ESPN to recognize individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performance during the year preceding a given annual ceremony." ESPY might now be part of your lexicon. Perhaps it is something you made a point to watch. Why? The 2015 honoree of the Arthur Ashe award is Caitlyn Jenner. 

I wondered if she would offer any words of wisdom and truth that I would share with my students...if those words would be used to comfort someone in need in the years to come. I found something different. This year's ESPY awards offered me three insights and a better understanding of the word hero. This is what I found...
1. The Notion of Hero
People have deemed Caitlyn Jenner a hero, a term I believe we need to revisit and re-examine at different phases in our lives. There's a reason children are drawn to superheroes—they possess exaggerated qualities of strength, power and courage. As we mature, we find heroes in everyday people and places. And while these people may have a "courage," a word that is synonymous with being a hero, I think there is one virtue that is more important: "selflessness." Putting others before ourselves works against our nature. Most people don't. I don't. It's hard but it's not impossible. We need examples of those who do so to inspire us to do the same. Courage without selflessness is ego.

It bothers me that Jenner said in the profile video before her speech that "I was tired of living for other people." I doubt those are words that Jesus or Mother Teresa ever said. Ever.

2. Time is Not on Our Side.
In "Catholicism" Richard McBrien writes about the "rate of change." It's poignant context for the understanding of theology. After all, theology is faith seeking understanding. And that is always applied to the human person and condition today. Vatican II called the Church to read the signs of the times. The times are so quickly changing...that can be tough.

Despite the fast paced world we live in, I still hold that a person does not become a hero overnight. A singular event may mark a turning point on a person's life. It may signify a new chapter. But I think a hero builds (and leaves) a legacy. The fruit of their labor speaks for itself....and does so over time.
If in ten to fifteen years time, Jenner is publicly advocating for the trans community, educating the public about challenges and responses, building curriculum and more, then that title may be well deserved. But to deem a person a hero for a very public decision that was made but a year ago (although some may claim the inability to make that decision has been due to outside pressures for decades), does not resonate with my belief.

The Real Hero of the 2015 ESPYs

My parents called me at 11:30 pm on the night of the ESPYs. I was so worried something had happened at home. Instead, they wanted to know if I had seen the profile of Danielle Green. "You have to show her speech in 
Sports and Spirituality"  To me, she is the real hero of the 2015 ESPYs awards.

As written for ESPN, Green — a Notre Dame graduate, former Division I women's basketball player, wounded warrior, veterans' counselor, joyful mother, forgiving daughter —is the 2015 recipient of the Pat Tillman award. They forgot to mention that at the age of 35, she became a widow.

The profile video tells the story that unfortunately isn't all that unfamiliar. Green grew up in Chicago without her father in her life. When her family fell on hard times, her mother turned to drugs. Green wanted to be different. Heroes often do.

She committed her focus and abilities toward basketball and won a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame when she played from 1995-2000 under Coach Muffet McGraw, who she considers to be "my first drill sergeant."  
Perhaps basketball taught her something about being selfless. As a guard, she has to have the vision to see where others are on the court in order to achieve a common goal.

After graduation, Green wanted to do more. She found another goal; she enlisted in the US Army and served in Iraq where she lost her left arm. A natural lefty she had to learn to write and work with her other hand. When this happened she said "I felt guilty that I couldn't finish my deployment."

Upon returning home, Green returned to school and earned her Masters in Psychology. Today she works with fellow combat veterans as they deal with PTSD and more.

Green life continues to be an unfolding gift. She had the courage to be different but it only led to gift upon gift. Her speech challenged us to find, passion, purpose and to become fully human. We find these things in giving to others, our country and our God. 

I don't know that I have ever been more proud of a fellow alumnae than when I watched Danielle Green accept the Pat Tillman award. She left me with tears and the desire in my heart to do more. Perhaps you found that in listening to Caitlyn Jenner. That's for you to decide. It's what heroes were made for...

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