Thursday, February 28, 2008

A sense of perspective

Great story by Gregg Doyle of CBSSports.com (http://cbs.sportsline.com/columns/story/10674223/1) about Kentucky men's basketball coach Billy Gillespie being involved with raising money for pediatric oncology. The story goes on to talk about a whole bunch of other major sports figures, and all the good they do as well.

It's easy to lose track of, but it's a good reminder that there are a lot of good, selfless acts in the world. We lose perspective when we get caught up in a 24/7 news cycle that feasts on the negative. That's not necessarily a "there's no good news" criticism, as I think much of the attention to the negative is justified. We all might be sick of Roger Clemens, but the story is still important to cover.

But it's easy to get jaded, and stories like this remind us not to.

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Gillispie reminds us that sports people are human beings, too
Feb. 28, 2008
By Gregg Doyel
CBSSports.com National Columnist

A video fell into my electronic lap this week, and not the kind of video you see in sports these days. It's not video of an NFL champion illegally taping another team's sideline. It's not a baseball superstar testifying before Congress. It wasn't shot from a police cruiser.

Billy Gillispie was caught on tape -- and it's good. This video was a reminder that the sports people we write about and read about and scream about aren't always the two-dimensional characters we like to imagine. This video was a reminder and a lesson, and while it's a reminder I'll probably forget at some point, for now it feels good to remember, and to know.

Billy Gillispie isn't just a famous basketball coach. He's something better -- he's a human being.

Extrapolated further, that means they're all human beings. That's the reminder. That's the lesson. And this is not me preaching to you. This is me preaching to me, driving home the point inwardly, after watching this home video taken within hours of Kentucky's 63-58 victory against Arkansas on Saturday.

The video starts with Gillispie greeting roughly 500 Kentucky students nearing the end of a 24-hour marathon to raise money for the UK Pediatric Oncology Clinic. Pediatric oncology is fancy talk for "children with cancer," and there's nothing fancy about that. Gillispie wasn't trying to be fancy, wasn't trying to be a star. He was just trying to thank the students for raising nearly $415,000 to help children with cancer.

One student had walked over to Rupp Arena to invite Gillispie to the event. He agreed to come, then walked on stage and was given a microphone. Gillispie tried to say a few words but couldn't. He paused. The crowd laughed. The crowd misunderstood. Gillispie wasn't trying to be dramatic. He was trying not to burst into tears.

"I'm going to have a hard time getting through this deal," he finally said. "They just asked me to come over, and I'm kicking myself in the rear end for not knowing what was going on the last 24 hours."

Gillispie went on to thank the students, saying, "What you're doing, what you've done the last 24 hours, that's what makes life worth living, because you're giving someone else a chance to have a better life than they might have."

Gillispie then turned and gestured to the children, some of them bald, on the stage.

"Y'all are big stars," Gillispie told the college students, "but here's the real big stars right here. These young people right here have more courage than all of us put together. They keep fighting, and the parents are tougher than nails, just tough every single day."

And so went another day in the life of Billy Gillispie. Wake up. Beat Arkansas in front of 23,000 fans at Rupp Arena. Talk about it to the media. Go to a cancer-fighting rally. Hug a kid. Cry. It was just a few moments, but how many of those moments happen without our knowing about it? How many other moments in how many other famous lives?

Dayton coach Brian Gregory does grunt work for a local charity, Secret Smiles, that donates beds to poor families. He goes out in a truck and delivers a bed. He doesn't introduce himself. He's not there as the Dayton head basketball coach. He's just a guy and a truck.

For years Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has saved the best seat at Cameron Indoor Stadium for a Duke fan with Down Syndrome, putting the man behind his own chair on the bench. I don't know the man's name or his connection to Krzyzewski. Neither Coach K nor the school wants to talk about it. It's not about publicity.

Florida coach Billy Donovan once interrupted a 2003 press conference to take a phone call from a U.S. soldier in the Middle East, a regular Joe from Tampa who liked the Gators. Donovan later gave the soldier's family game tickets and behind-the-scenes access during the NCAA Tournament. He never told the media.

North Carolina's Roy Williams holds an annual clinic for Special Olympians during the season. Illinois' Bruce Weber and Gonzaga's Mark Few take their teams to a hospital to visit kids fighting cancer. Louisville's Rick Pitino helped start a homeless shelter in Owensboro, Ky.

When he was at North Carolina State, Herb Sendek befriended a boy with brain tumors. The kid, Gregory Parrish, was a staunch Wolfpack fan getting treatment at a Duke hospital in 2004 -- so staunch that he turned down tickets to a Duke game because he liked N.C. State. Sendek heard about that and invited Gregory to a game. Soon Gregory was in the 2004-05 team picture. He rode the team bus, hung out in the locker room and sat behind the bench, and when the tumors took his eyesight, his father called out play-by-play. When Sendek left in 2006 for Arizona State, he told Gregory before he told the media. When Gregory died a few months later, Sendek came back to Raleigh to speak at the funeral, where everyone reminisced about the time Gregory was scheduled for brain surgery and told the doctor to make it quick -- the Wolfpack had a game coming up. Two days later, Gregory was behind the bench in a red wig.

These are great stories. They don't always end well, but sometimes they do. Saturday night, for example. Saturday night in Lexington ended well. Gillispie struggled through his unprepared speech before leaving with a sentence he certainly hadn't planned to say:

"If it'll do any good ..." Gillispie started, then stopped and shook his head. "I love this. I love people. I love tough people. I love tough people that won't ever give up. And if it'll help, I'd like to give a check for $10,000."

Stunned, the 500 students erupted into loud cheers, but Gillispie had nothing else to say. He gave a small wave, handed away the microphone and walked quickly off the stage. As the video fades to black, I'm not sure if he had tears in his eyes. But I'm positive I did.

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