Thursday, April 19, 2012

Running Through Pain

Pain is temporary.

For the past four months, I have pounded this mantra through my mind, legs, and feet.  I am running my first marathon this weekend and the concept of pain being temporary runs, pardon the pun, deeper than just the physical and emotional investment it's taken to get ready for the race.  

I wanted to feel pain.  I wanted to feel the pain of waking up before the sun on winter mornings and bundling up to get in a few miles. I wanted to feel the pain of feeling my legs gradually give out midway through my longest training run.  I embraced this pain not because I am some kind of masochist, but because I wanted to prove to myself that there is no pain too crippling to overcome.  And, I wanted to be able to use the physical challenges of running a marathon to pass this message along to my little brother, Jayden.

Jayden and me
Jayden is the reason I am running the marathon.  He and I aren't brothers by blood, but I don't know if that would make us any closer.  He and I were matched as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in August 2010.  A year-and-a-half later, he has become one of my greatest motivators.

To say Jayden's life has been difficult would be an understatement.  I won't detail his hardships, but his almost 15 years on this earth have been anything but easy.  He has experienced plenty of pain, pain no run of 26.2 miles can duplicate.

But, all pain is temporary and even though it doesn't last forever, the lessons learned from it can.

Throughout my training I reflected on some of my life's most painful moments.  It's amazing how running can jog your memory.  What I found most unbelievable is that I often thought about the toughest times during the most challenging runs.  When the pain hit its apex, my mind went to a memory that hurt the most.

I thought of my grandfather who passed away last year.  I thought about my biological father leaving my mom three weeks after I was born. I thought about Rasheed Wallace not defending Robert Horry on the inbounds pass in 2005, essentially costing the Pistons back-to-back NBA titles.  I thought about buying an engagement ring weeks before finding out my girlfriend at the time was cheating on me.  And, most of all, I thought about my cousin, Zack.

Sam and Zack
Like Jayden and I, Zack and I were as close as brothers could be.  We did everything as a pair as kids.  We went to camps together, fought, played sports, gawked at girls, and simply talked about life.   Zack was the greatest friend and brother I could imagine.

He passed away when he was just 19 years young.  Saturday's marathon will mark, to the day, the six year anniversary of his funeral.

The pain from that day will forever haunt me and the rest of my family.  I remember the sounds and smoke created by the 21 gun salute honoring him.  I remember watching a procession of Zack's friends and family line up to say goodbye as the Beatles' "Let It Be" played.  I remember watching my aunt nearly collapse as the casket of her eldest son was brought into the church.  I remember watching my other cousin, Zack's brother, attempt to fight back tears because his big brother always told him to be tough.  That was painful.

But, the pain of that day inspired others to be better.  Zack died of a drug overdose while on leave from the Marines.  Zack isn't a martyr, but his story has been used to save lives of others.  Whether it be through the discussion forums held by my uncle, Zack's dad, to encourage other teens to choose a different path or the closer bonds formed within the family after his passing, Zack's legacy remains.  He always wanted to make those around him happy while on earth, but could never exactly figure out how.  Through his death, Zack has opened eyes and hearts and turned pain into positives.

Memories of Zack and the others still sting. But, and I noticed this more than ever while training, I always came out of these painful situations stronger.  During those moments, the pain was unbearable, but learning to grow from those setbacks and not let them deter my progress toward life's finish line makes me appreciate each experience. 

Pain is temporary.

My greatest fear is Jayden not being able to find positives out of his pains.  He is exceptionally talented and unbelievably intelligent.  And, I don't just say this as a proud older brother.  Anyone who meets him feeds off his personality.   This is a personality that needs to shine.  It is one of which hardships should not be able to hold down.

I decided to run the marathon as a way to raise money for a college savings account I started for Jayden.  In three years when he is walking across the podium to accept his high school diploma, officially making him a college freshman, I don't want there to be any financial pains waiting for him.  To even get to that point he will have already had to overcome plenty of hurdles.

I will put my body through probably its most painful experience, Saturday.  In fact, I type this while downing several gallons of bottled water in preparation.  But, once I cross the finish line, I know the pain will be worth it.  Because the experience has made me better and will make Jayden's path to college a little easier and hopefully serve as a vivid example for him that no matter what the obstacle, he can overcome and succeed.

Pain is temporary.  At the end of pain is success.  Success is divine.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wade Poor for Asking for Olympic Pay

Some things don't have a price tag.  Pride and honor are two of them.  Dwyane Wade lacks both.

The Miami Heat All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist is a great basketball player.  He will probably find his name in the National Basketball Association Hall-of-Fame one day.  But, Dwyane Wade is not a good American.  Maybe that is too harsh.  Dwyane Wade is an uninformed, arrogant, thoughtless American.

Wade recently stated that he thinks NBA players who compete in the Olympic games should be compensated for doing so.  He argues that after a long season, it's taxing for these world-class athletes to have to be back on the court, competing hard with very little rest for free.  Wade says playing in the Olympics is "not about the dollar, but it would be nice if you would get compensated."

Since when is having the privilege of being one of a select few people in the world, picked to represent the country with the greatest advantages in the world, not compensation enough? 

Wade will compete on a team this summer made up a players from all different backgrounds, whose combination of God-given talent and hard work have resulted in them earning a living that is dreamlike.  I don't blame them for that.  They have put themselves in a position to make that kind of money for their on-court play in the NBA and marketed themselves in a way to make even more in endorsements.  That is the American dream.

But, part of being a great American and living the American dream is understanding privilege and opportunity.  Dwyane Wade didn't grow up with a platinum spoon in his mouth.  He came from a humble background in Chicago and worked his way into worldwide icon status. Somewhere along that journey he lost perspective.

The Olympics represent one of the oldest, greatest, yet dying, aspects of our world, the opportunity to compete for the sake of competing.  The event was built on the concept of personal and national pride.  Have athletes cashed in on their Olympic performances after the games? Absolutely.  But, wanting money TO compete is a perversion.  It lessens the intent of what the Olympics are all about.

Not only are the five-multi colored rings about competing, they represent a chance for countries to highlight their successes and work together to try to improve the failures.

Dwyane Wade's comments point to the worldwide perception that Americans are greedy.

The world is consumed with financial problems.  European nations such as Greece and Portugal are swimming in a sea of debt.  Most of Africa defines wealth as the ability to get a healthy and full meal everyday.  Even thousands of Americans are still taking low paying jobs simply to keep food on the table. 

Yet, here is Wade, a multi-millionaire asking for more.  He made more than $25-million last year.  How much does he need?

Wade, along with his other superstar teammates in Miami, has a history of entitlement.  He is one of the biggest whiners in the league, held a preseason title celebration, only to lose in the Finals months later, and never shys away from moments to let the spotlight shine on his individual success.

There is no place for any of that in the Olympics.  That is a platform for selflessness and national pride.

Ask Tommie Smith and John Carlos. 

In the 1968 Olympics, the two men finished first (Smith, who also set a world record at the time) and third (Smith) in the 200 meter dash.  Both Smith and Carlos are African American and rose to Olympic prominence during the height of the civil rights movement. 

After accepting their medals on the podium in Mexico City, they each raised one clenched fist in the air.  At the time, many people thought it was to symbolize black power and defiance.  In fact, the U.S turned its back on them and both were kicked off the team because of the outrage. 

But, Smith and Carlos didn't apologize for their fists.  They displayed the gesture not for self promotion, but for national and international unity.   It was their way of denouncing racism and a symbol asking for all people coming together as one.  They used the Olympic stage to send this powerful message.

The image of Smith and Carlos with their fists raised high is iconic.  Their actions were selfless and helped push the nation's conversation of  racial equality forward.

Those men represent what the Olympics are all about.

Dwyane Wade needs to learn from their example.  The Olympics aren't about a petty paycheck.  They are about encouraging others to rise to the best in their profession.  They are about representing what is great about competition.  For American athletes, they are about being proud and honored to be a citizen of the most affluent and privileged nation in the world and representing it on the world's greatest stage.

Money is replaceable.  It can buy a lot, but it can't buy pride and respect, which are the foundations of the Olympic games.  Wade asking for more shows how poor he really is.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Experimenting in College: A Start for the NCAA

To say college athletes don't value education would be disingenuous.  It's simply not true.  Every season there are great stories of those who play under the bright lights on campus while performing equally well, or even more impressively, in the classroom.  Kirk Cousins, Myron Rolle, and Robbie Hummel immediately come to mind.

But, it is fair to say that the concept of the student-athlete is broken.  Change is imperative.

Two stories over the past week reaffirmed my concern that young men are being used as financial pawns in the game of college athletics.

LSU safety and future NFL first round draft pick, Morris Claibrone, recently scored a four out of 50 on the NFL's standardized Wonderlic test.  A FOUR!

Claiborne is blessed with God-given talent and undoubtedly worked very hard to become one of the best players in the game, but at what cost?  The cost of a lack of education.

The Wonderlic isn't exactly the Bar Exam.  It isn't meant to identify a player as a genius, only competent.  Claiborne's abysmal low score is a testament to his and LSU's commitment to education.  It was non-existent.  Scoring a four basically indicates Claiborne either has a learning disability or has not been given the most BASIC tools to use his mind effectively anywhere but the football field.

Surely someone identified these problems in his three years at a Division 1 university.  He had tutors, coaches, and professors who must have noticed he struggled academically.  But, all obviously turned a blind eye because Claiborne had skill that translated to wins and subsequent revenue.

But, and I by no means hope this happens, but what if Claiborne blows out his knee in the preseason and can never play another down of football in his life.  Now what is left?  A young man is his early 20s with basically no educational foundation.  There are thousands of top notch college graduates who are sleeping in their parents basement because the jobs market is still brittle.  If Claiborne is without football and forced into a game where his mind is the primary muscle, he is not only not a star, heck, Claiborne isn't even in the arena.

He has all his eggs in one basket, football.  If they start to crack, he will be without a fallback option because he failed to take education seriously despite having a prime opportunity and those around him let him squander it because they were benefiting from his natural ability.

A disgrace.

Monday night, I watched confetti fall, smiles shine bright, and trophies held high as Kentucky completed a dominating season in men's college basketball and claimed another National Championship in the school's storied history and first for head coach John Calipari.

The team, like others that Calipari took to Final Fours, was highlighted with standout freshmen.  Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist both won't be able to legally drink alcohol for another three years, and even another year in Canada, yet they were responsible for not only carrying a team in front of a national audience, but also making their University, TV networks, and their coach endless amounts of money.

Both of these men will both be millionaires themselves shortly, and I have no reason to believe they don't take academics seriously.  But, they are puppets and the NCAA is pulling the strings.

Kentucky jerseys with Davis' number 23 could be seen in the stands throughout the tournament.  His famous/infamous unibrow was used as a marketing tool and what did he get? A nine month stay on Lexington's campus before jumping to the NBA.

I don't fault players like Davis and MKG for leaving after a year to make millions of dollars playing a game they have dedicated their life to, but college is an experience all students, athlete and other, should savor.  It's four years to grow and find yourself.

The NCAA makes BILLIONS, with a B, of dollars on the success of "student"-athletes.  There is plenty of cash to go around.  For an organization that prides itself on "EDUCATION" you would think the NCAA would do more to push that aspect and one way to do so is money.

Anthony Davis would probably go to the NBA after a year regardless, even if he was given an increased stipend.  He is physically and talent-wise ready for the pros.  But there are many who make the jump who aren't.  Michigan State's Marcus Taylor comes to mind.  He had a lot of college talent, but left too early for the money grab in the NBA.  He was drafted, but never hit it big.

If the NCAA increases the amount it pays to college student-athletes or reforms the rules for them to make money from their talent, it is more likely players like Taylor will stay on campus longer, develop their skill on the floor and in the classroom further, and be more well rounded when they GRADUATE.

The NCAA makes money on talents of those such as Davis, so why shouldn't Davis?  If he signs an autograph on a jersey with HIS number and sells it, Davis sits out for the season.  If the NCAA sells the same jersey, it pockets the money.  That seems unjust.

A physics student can make money doing research on cells and equations.  They have skills that translate to cash.  Davis and other athletes have their own set of skills, it's time to let them cash in while at the same time enjoying the benefits of college education.

I'm not asking for these players to make millions while on campus, but instead, a small percentage of the revenue generated from their sport or a scale set for what would be comparable to a part-time campus job.  That's fair.

I acknowledge this won't resolve all the problems in college sports.  But it's a start.  College is all about experimenting and learning, and things won't get better until the NCAA starts doing so.