May 1, 2003

Remembering our Heroes' Humanity

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While rummaging through the stacks on the seventh floor of Olin Library a couple days ago, I ran into senior Cornell athlete Matt McRae. McRae, of overtime goal against B.C. to send the Red to its first Frozen Four in 23 years fame, is part of this campus’s most exclusive corps of athletes: the men’s hockey team.

As we all know, the men’s hockey team is something of royalty on this campus. They are recognized most everywhere they go, they tend to walk in highly visible packs, and they are respected as the pinnacle of the Big Red athletic program. I imagine their lives are a little easier off the ice because of the hard fought accomplishments they’ve achieved on the ice, too. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m the first person to defend big-time athletes’ rights to a more comfortable life off the playing field. I imagine a similar phenomenon exists elsewhere; for the men’s basketball team at Syracuse or Duke, the football teams at Notre Dame, Texas and Miami, or the softball players at UCLA. It’s only natural that the students that give a university its high visibility will be rewarded by campus fame.

Which brings me back to my encounter with Matt McRae. We were each wandering the stacks, having no idea where BR 145 or whatever section was located. Upon turning a corner, he recognized me from the many interviews he’d given to our section and we immediately engaged in a conversation. However, we didn’t talking about his glorious season on the ice, the accolades he’d received, the goal which will remain emblazoned on the collective Faithful’s minds for years to come, or of his plans to pursue an NHL career.

Instead, right there on the top floor of Olin Library, a member of Cornell’s finest fraternity and a sportswriter who has followed his career for three long years talked about fishing.

Fishing. And not just fishing, but his teammate and my personal friend Greg Hornby’s love for the hobby. We also talked about the papers we had to write in the coming weeks and of the academic pressures which predictably mount at the end of the semester. Not a word was spoken about the game we each so love, because it’s only a game and the season has ended. And for right now, Matt McRae is just another student trying to finish a term paper before finals week.

Walking away from the conversation, I couldn’t help but think of those awful commercials that plagued the TV breaks throughout the Final and Frozen Fours. “We’re all going pro in something other than sports …” You know the ones. Though the commercials are terribly annoying, the message is true and important. Though we may view our college athletes as heroes, gods, and goons, they’re really just a bunch of college guys and girls, trying to graduate and make something of themselves like the rest of us. They do take finals and prelims, write papers, and cram for tests. And that’s exactly what makes it all so special.

If you happened to catch the press conference of Carmelo Anthony announcing his intention to enter the NBA Draft, you probably know what I’m talking about. Anthony became a national icon this year, almost single-handedly bringing a young group of raw individuals at Syracuse all the way to a national championship. He averaged 26.5 points and 12 rebounds in the Final Four and immediately became every major sports publication’s favorite cover boy. However, when it came time for him to cash in on his sudden rush of fame, he told his coach, “To be honest with you coach, I really don’t want to leave.” The two reportedly cried together several times throughout the emotional meeting.

Carmelo Anthony just wanted to be a college kid. The big man on campus. He wanted campus fame. He wanted every eye in a lecture hall to be on him, he wanted free hot dogs in the dining halls and admiring fans to maul him at the clubs on Friday nights.

Anthony will turn 19 at the end of May. What could be better than such campus fame for an 18-year old kid from a tough neighborhood in Baltimore? Probably nothing, and that’s what makes him so human. Another teenager with a group of friends he’ll now have to say good-bye to, a freshman that most likely lived in a campus dorm this year and had to do his own laundry every other week.

However, with all the pressure he’s received to make the jump, Carmelo couldn’t help but respond. So next year he’ll be a 19-year old superstar, earning a living in basketball stadiums across the country. I bet that, more than once, he’ll be sitting in a motel room on a long road trip wondering what he’d be doing if he’d stayed at Syracuse. Which class would I be studying for? What is Coach Boeheim’s wife making for Sunday dinner? Which girl would I be hitting on at the library?

It’s a shame that our society puts so much pressure on athletes to constantly make the next step. We want them to improve, perform, and entertain. We get angry when they play with less than an all-out fervor for the game and mock them when they fail. One thing we never do is ask what they want or why.

In reality, Carmelo Anthony just wanted to be a student. Another guy rummaging through the stacks. A guy who can run into a campus reporter and talk about something other than himself. A guy much like Matt McRae.

Lately in this country, we expect so much from our heroes and cringe when they act human. However, it is their very humanity that makes them so appealing and likable. Let’s not forget that it was Magic’s smile, Jordan’s charisma, and Babe Ruth’s magnetism that made them such enduring figures.

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In concluding my final column of this semester, I’d just like to thank a few of those people who will be leaving the Sports Corner for bigger and better things this year.

Amanda Angel, what can I say? You’re simply the most driven, encouraging, understanding, talented, and intelligent person I’ve ever worked for or with. I’ll leave the mushy stuff for next spring, but just know that you set out to make this section the best it’s ever been and you’ve succeeded. No one can deny you that and we’ll always be grateful for the ways in which you’ve inspired us to be better both individually and as a team, on a daily basis.

Alex Fineman — Fizzle — I don’t mean to sound too eighth grade yearbookish but we’ve become such great friends over the last year and I’m so thankful for that. You’re a caring individual who draws people to himself without even realizing it. Thanks for always going out of your way to help me throughout this year and always talk as much trash as possible on the court. It can only help. Good luck next year and I’ll be looking for your column on Page 2 in the near future.

Kristen Haunss, anyone that’s worked on a beat with you considers you the best beat partner they’ve ever had. I’m definitely no exception. You’re so willing to sacrifice to make things easier for other people and I imagine that’s why you have so many adoring friends. That’s a quality that can’t be faked. Rock on Syosset!

Nigro, wow, I really feel like I’m saying goodbye to a best friend. You absolutely made my nights at The Sun and I can’t wait to hear what you’re doing in the years to come. You’re an amazing talent and an even greater human being. People love you, I love you and the office most definitely won’t be the same without you. Oh, vin, gina baby!

Finally, thanks to all of my faithful readers who are the only reason this two-hour
a week project called Tears on the Mound is worth it. Be good and I’ll catch you all in August. One.

Scott Jones is a Sun Senior Editor. Tears on the Mound appeared every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Scott Jones