September 1, 2009

Sports, Service and Leadership at C.U.

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From Greek mythology’s heroic Herakles (the original World’s Strongest Man, a god among men) to Bill Clinton (who won a Rhodes Scholarship … though the former president’s greatest athletic achievement was probably a nice round of golf), history is full of “professional” athletes who became leaders of men in the arenas of both politics and sports.
Next Thursday, Cornell gets to play host to two of these characters.
Last week, I learned that Bill Bradley and Ken Dryden ’70 would be coming to Cornell the evening of Sept. 10. The names set off bells in my head: Bradley, a Princeton All-American and NBA Hall of Famer and Dryden, arguably the greatest hockey player that Cornell has ever produced. It didn’t matter what else I was supposed to be doing that day, I was going to be in the audience for that panel.
Add this announcement to the fact that the Yankees are six games ahead of Boston as I write this column, and life couldn’t get much better for this sports fan.
What’s interesting, however, is the topic of conversation for this panel. The title of the event is “Lives on the Run: Sports, Service and Leadership.” The first part is a reference to Bradley’s 1976 memoir. But the more interesting part of the event’s label, I think, is the three-part list at the end, which illustrates a veritable athletic trinity of sorts.
Bradley, a three-term former senator (D-N.J.), had a serious showing in 2000 attempting to earn the Democratic Party nomination for POTUS, and the Hon. Ken Dryden has been a member of the Canadian Parliament, representing York Centre in Ontario, since 2004. These guys are clearly politicians who could talk for hours about their experiences in politics, name-dropping with the best of them. But this isn’t an open-ended “let’s mob the celebrities” type of event. Judging from the title, the organizers made the intriguing decision to split up the practice of politics into its two component parts: service and leadership.
I’m not saying anything new; this athlete to politician phenomenon is well documented. But I’m more excited to see Bradley and Dryden now for one reason. Nowadays, I feel like most people assume that good looks, increased testosterone and networking skills are the only characteristics that get carried over from a career in athletics to one in politics. Whether this is from an increased disillusionment with politicians or with pro athletes, however, I can’t say. My point is that the real meaning of sports can be found in these ideas of service (giving back to the community that supports you or your team) and leadership (developing the personality and skills to motivate your teammates and together achieve greatness).
Maybe these ideas have been forgotten by younger generations, and maybe Bradley and Dryden are part of a dying breed of great athletes who spent the rest of their lives — after their athletic careers, that is — inspiring the rest of us to try to make the world a better place.
That’s too depressing even to think about. Moving on.
See you all in Bailey Hall next week for some enlightenment at the feet of two gurus. And if all else fails, we can always boo Bradley for being from Princeton and heckle Dryden for being … Canadian. What a way to start the school year!