Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Professional athletes, when you meet them in person, tend to be a bit disappointing.
We always have high expectations for those we admire, idolize and respect; we expect them to be humble, friendly, intelligent and polite; and let’s be honest, a lot of times, well, they just aren’t.
Sometimes they’re rude, or they won’t give a child an autograph; sometimes they have an attitude, and sometimes they are just plain jerks.
After speaking with Sgt. Maj. Mia Kelly, of 1st Information Operations Command of Fort Belvoir, Va., after her round of golf with none other than Tiger Woods last week, I know that at least one athlete does live up to, may even exceed, the expectations of fans.
After spending a day with the 12-time Major winner, Kelly said she is a convert.
“You can’t spend time with him and not become a fan, especially for those of us in the military,” she said.
Growing up in a military household with a father who was a retired Special Forces lieutenant colonel, Woods was raised on military golf courses and says he holds an affinity to those who serve our country.
“My dad was retired, but I grew up on a military base, and played golf there and that was my home course,” Woods told the thousands of spectators July 4 at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. “For me, all my life, I’ve been part of the military. I’ve always been around (servicemembers); I understand the commitment it takes for men and women to do what they do each and every day. That’s a commitment that I don’t think people truly understand.
“Especially with what’s going on overseas, we need to say ‘Thank you,’ somehow, and this is a small way of doing that.”
Professional athletes are often great donators to causes they support. But, giving your money away is one thing, and giving your time is another.
Woods, after playing in the Pro-Am Wednesday and the tournament Thursday through Sunday, spent the day with injured Soldiers at Walter Reed.
“I think he’s one of the most important sports figures out there because he actually cares about the military, and he’s genuine about it,” Kelly said. “I think it’s awesome.”
I know that I’ve met many professional athletes, and, more often than not, I have been disappointed. Their larger-than-life personas, which draw us to them, are often backed up by larger-than-life egos, which push us away.
In the midst of all of that, we have Tiger Woods, probably the most recognizable athlete in the world, spending time in his busy schedule, just weeks after the birth of his first child, golfing with military servicemembers, spending time with them and befriending them.
Woods didn’t do it for show, or for kudos; he did it because of his father, and because he was raised in the military like so many of those on Belvoir. He, unlike so many others, understands the military lifestyle, the hardships and the sacrifice, and it’s nice to know that someone so much in the public eye, with so much on his plate, can take the time to say two simple words.
Thank you.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Welcome to my world

Sports, sports, sports. My life really does revolve around sports. I mean, I have other stuff going on, I'm not a total stat nerd, but my livelihood does depend on how often I watch ESPN. My favorite sports is, and has always been, football. Unfortunatly, because I have boobs, I was never able to actually experience it first-hand.
So I wonder if I can ever really understand football, seeing as how I’ve never been able to play it.
Sure, I grew up around football: my dad was a Division III All-American quarterback, my younger brother was an All-State quarterback and safety, and is currently playing 1AA ball. But “The Man” wouldn’t let me buckle a chin strap or stand underneath the Friday night lights.
I have a very good couch-potato football background. Since I was little, Saturday afternoons in the fall were all about football. Penn State was the college team of choice in my household, so we all lived by the book of Joe Pa.
Since high school, Friday nights were for high school football games, and even though our team wasn’t any good during any of my wonder years, I still went to all of the games. Actually, saying they weren’t good is being nice. In fact, the team never won more than two games in a row until my senior year, when they won three, their only wins of the season. When they accomplished that feat, it was the only three games they won all year. We celebrated those three wins like they’d won the state Super Bowl. You take what you can get, I guess.
A couple of years ago I got my dream internship -I worked with the New England Patriots, and got to watch all of the home games from the sidelines. It was cool to be on the sidelines, but I wish I knew what it felt like to be wearing the pads and having all of those people scream for ME.
Anyway, the point is that I’ve watched a lot of football. I know what a blitz is, I know what the flat is, and I even know the difference between a cover-two and a cover-three. But I only know all these things from my dad telling me, and from watching. I’ve never stood on the field and seen the spread offense from behind. I’ve never felt the sting of getting pummeled by a 250 pound lineman, and never had to fight for life and limb on the bottom of a pile… some might consider this as a blessing, but still.
After his Thanksgiving football game against his rival high school in 2004, my brother was trying to explain the atmosphere to me. Eight thousand fans screaming when he scored a touchdown, and hundreds of fans rushing the field after they won. The closest I’ve ever come to this feeling was not on Thanksgiving, but the day after – charging into the local mall with 200 of my closest rivals as soon as the doors open.
We talk about what it would be like for him to play in college. One day he was talking about a former teammate of his, who is now a safety at Northwestern, who had played Michigan in Ann Arbor last season.
“Can you imagine that Jen? More than 100,000 fans screaming. I can’t believe how awesome that must be.” I could almost see him shaking his head over the phone.
No, I can’t imagine you jerk. That is one of the hard things about being a female in the sports world, I’ve been a part of teams, sure. But I don’t think anything else is like the camaraderie of a high school or college football team. I have watched plenty of games, and talked to plenty of athletes, but I will always be the spectator.
So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never have the first-hand experience of playing football. But I have to say I have about as much second-hand experience as anyone, and have grown up and worked with men who have played at a high level.
Maybe I’ll never catch a pass or break up an interception at “The Big House” during a game, or even stand in the high school locker room after tough Friday night loss … but I have stood on the field as the Patriots beat the Colts in the AFC playoffs, and that’s something most football players can't say. So ha.