Sports can bring out the best in people. But, just as often, it brings out the worst.
“Winning isn’t everything,” intoned Vince Lombardi, “it’s the only thing.”
So it was in the eighth century before the Common Era when athletes in the original Greek Olympics bribed their competitors in order to win. Thousands of years later, we have Pete Rose and the match-fixers in English football.
Back then, they found runners secretly riding horses over the unsupervised legs of the marathon. In more recent times, Fred Lorz “won” the 1904 marathon when he drove his newly-invented car part of the way. And there was Rosie Ruiz, whose strategy for completing the 1980 New York marathon included a few stops on the subway.
Nothing seems to change. It can be 1972 when Bobby Clarke viciously slashes USSR star Valeri Kharlamov or 2004 when Todd Bertuzzi becomes a common criminal by paralyzing rookie Steve Moore.
In 1994, Tonya Harding hired a goon to bash in Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. In 2006, backup punter Mitch Cozad personally stabbed his own teammate in the leg to try to be the starter.
Last week, somebody shot a 10-year old kid’s grandparents after a youth baseball game.
Steroids continue to be a plague on the house of almost every professional sport. Barry Bonds, Ron Artest, Joe Horn and Maurice Clarett are a collective disgrace. George W. Bush has never met a law he won’t break for some moronic short-term advantage.
And now the newest candidate for induction into the bad sports Hall of Fame is none other than Heisman winner Reggie Bush.
The NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, is checking out a claim that while at USC Reggie’s family was showered with illegal gifts by prospective agents. The thinking goes that if Reggie got illegal compensation, he would be retroactively labeled a professional athlete for his final two seasons at USC.
There are those who are clamoring for Bush to return his Heisman and for the Trojans to forfeit the national title. They would put Bush in the company of Ruiz and Bonds and the rest — a cheater.
But Reggie never took the subway while returning kickoffs and he never took any drugs to make him faster or stronger.
What he has done lately for the New Orleans Saints belies the idea Reggie is a bad sport.
This past Monday night, the world watched as the Superdome hosted its first Saints’ game since Hurricane Katrina. Although much of New Orleans is still desolate, the football stadium was luminous.
Lights — cracked and broken 13 months before — shined brighter than ever as a guy named Curtis Deloatch recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game. The fans were delirious with joy, and both the Superdome and New Orleans were bursting with life and hope.
Since coming to New Orleans in this year’s draft, Reggie Bush has done everything right. His statistics the other night (72 yards) are not important.
What is important is Reggie gave $86,000 to a local high school to rebuild their football field which was ravaged by Katrina. He gave another $56,000 to Holy Rosary High — a special needs school in the suburbs. He has personally been down the Garden District to pass out food and hygiene supplies to the needy.
A Louisiana priest calls him, “Saint Reginald.”
Even movie director Spike Lee said of Reggie: “As Americans, we know Reggie Bush is not FEMA, Michael Chertoff, Blanco or Nagin, but he means something to this city, he means something to this state.”
We can learn from the lessons of Jim Thorpe and protect Reggie Bush against those who would assassinate his character.
Reggie’s character is on display every day in New Orleans. He is not a Barry Bonds or a Rosie Ruiz. He is a credit to his team, his community and to his recovering city.
Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Friday this semester.