I read Mitch Albom's column in the Detroit Free Press the other day.
It features an interesting discussion between father and son that I will assume is a combination of both reality and fiction. While I understand his general point and rationale behind the piece, it failed to capitalize on lessons which could be taught to fans and readers. He neglected to feature the positive athletes and events in 2014 and missed the opportunity to talk about both the positive and negative incidents with his son in order to teach him valuable lessons through sports.
I have had many similar discussions with my eight year old son about sports and social issues this year, but mine have had a different tone and direction.
"Son, come here. I want to talk to you about something serious."
"Do you hit girls?"
"Would you ever hit your Mom?"
"Good, because you see that man there? He not only hit his wife, but he knocked her out and could have killed her. You don't ever hit a woman. Do you understand me? Never!"
"Yes Daddy. I understand."
"Good. Now, do you see those cuts and bruises on that baby's legs?"
"Yes. What happened to him?"
"Well his Father was punishing him but he went way too far and hurt him. That boy is only four years old. He's younger than you and look what happened to him. Some kids have it even worse and they are abused constantly. Has that ever happened to you?
"Exactly. That's why you have to be grateful that you have good parents and a good family. Some kids aren't as fortunate. This is also why we tell you that you have to stand up for yourself because some kids don't have that ability or opportunity and bad people hurt them. Don't let anyone abuse you. If anyone hurts you, you tell us immediately. Do you understand?"
"Good. Do you see those shirts that those people are wearing?"
"Yes. That's LeBron James right?"
"Yes it is."
"Most of those people are wearing the same shirts. They're yelling. What's happening Daddy?"
"Unfortunately two men died and the shirts have the last words said by one of those men. Those people are protesting and demanding justice because the people that killed those men are not being punished for what they did. Remember, there are good people and bad people. Not everyone in one group is good and not everyone is bad. That goes for teachers, friends, family and even the police. By the way, do you remember the things we told you to do if you're stopped by the police?"
"Yes. Be respectful. Don't talk back, keep your hands out of your pockets, take off your hood or hat and call them 'sir' or 'ma’am'. But why do we have to do that?"
"Because you should show them respect. Because you're a child of color and unfortunately there are things that we just have to do as black men."
"But those guys play basketball Daddy. Do they have to do those things too?"
"Yes son. Having lots of money doesn't mean that you're better than anyone else. They're Black too. But just do as I told you to do and show them respect."
"I don’t want you to think that everyone is bad. There are lots of good people in this world son, lots of good teachers, police officers, neighbors and friends. There are lots of good athletes too. Let me tell you about Terrence Crawford. He had a run-in with some bad people and he was shot. He could have died or tried to take revenge and messed up his life. But he took up boxing instead."
"I do that at Tiger Schulmann MMA!'
"Yes you do, and its done great things for you like boxing did for him. Now he's not only a star in the ring, but he works with kids and helps his community. He gives back."
"Community service, like we did at that school in The Bronx."
"Yes. And there are many more like him. Positive athletes like the story we did on Shawn Rhoden."
"Yes. When his Father died, he drank alcohol until he got so sick that he almost died. Then he stopped drinking, got healthy, went back to bodybuilding and he's one of the top bodybuilders in the world now. Remember, you don't do drugs or drink. It can lead to bad things."
"Do you remember the story I showed you on Danny Garcia, the boxer from Philly?"
"Yes. That's where Rocky's from!"
"Yes. Well Danny stayed away from the bad stuff and now he's a boxing champion who never forgot where he came from."
"What does that mean?"
"That means that he knows what it was like coming up without a lot of the things that he has now. You have toys, a bed and a house to live in. Some kids don't have any of those things. Some of them live in the streets. It's always important to give back to those who don't have and remember who you are and where you come from. Do you know his gym is in his neighborhood and it has a barbershop in it? People from the neighborhood work there and get their cuts there. He gives back to his neighborhood and his community. I want you to always remember that. You always have to give back."
"Who's that guy in the picture on your computer?"
"That's Darren Woodson. We did a story on him. He used to play in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys."
"The Cowboys? We like the Steelers though."
"Damn right we do! Speaking of the Steelers, let me tell you about William Gay. His Mother was a victim of domestic violence. Remember what I told you about Ray Rice? Well that happened to William's mother but she was killed by the person that she was with. But William has been giving back to victims and shelters for years now, helping them in any way that he can. He lost his Mom when he was very young but he never forgot and he gives back that so he can help families out. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"
"Good. Always remember that you don't hit women. You don't become a bully or a bad person. You help others, not hurt them."
"Now, back to Darren Woodson. His company is working with the NFL and they're donating money to help players who used to play in the NFL."
"Help them with what?"
"Some of them are very sick and didn't make a lot of money when they were playing and some of them can't pay for their medical treatments. Some have concussions and they're not doing too well. So Darren and his company are giving back to help these players. Why is that important son?"
"He's giving back. He's taking care of them because they're sick."
"Exactly. What did Uncle Ben tell Peter Parker in Spider-Man?"
"With great power comes great responsibility."
"Yes. As you get older and more successful, never forget that."
"Okay Daddy. I won't."
"You won't. I'll make sure of that."
"As you get older, you're going to meet good people and bad people. They'll be in school, they're be on your team and they'll be in the street. Some will like you and others won't. Some will make fun of you because you look different, because of your name or because your skin color is different. Don't ever be embarrassed about yourself or how you look. Be proud and stand up for yourself no matter where you are. Some people are ignorant son, and they will try to make you feel bad about yourself because they're actually scared of you or intimidated by you."
"What does ignorant mean?"
"It means that they don't understand, and sometimes they don't want to understand, so they won't learn. Life lessons aren't always taught in school or in books. Remember what I told you that my Grandmother told me- 'What good is education if you don't have any sense.' Remember that one. You'll understand it as you get older. Do you remember what Bob Marley said when you were doing that project on him?"
"What you is, is what you is."
"Yes. So be a good person. Be proud of who you are and where you come from and don't let others try to change the good things about you. Now go get ready for bed. You have school tomorrow."
"Okay Daddy. Love you."
"Love you too Son."
My Grandmother always spoke the truth and she taught me many lessons that I didn't understand until I got older, but I will always remember that one. We witnessed some horrible things this past year in the world of sports, but it's shame that those incidents receive more coverage than the positive stories that exist in the world of sports. Common sense tells us that the Donald Sterlings of the world have existed for a long time and no one should be shocked that his way of thinking existed. Common sense tells us that what Ray Rice did was a lot more violent than what that first tape displayed and he deserved a harsher punishment than what he originally received. But common sense also tells us that there are more good people in the world of sports than bad and that the basic lessons learned through sports are positive qualities that we can carry with us throughout our lives.
Sports teaches many lessons, both good and bad.
But all lessons must be taught and discussed, otherwise we'll never learn.