The Sports Industry and the greater good

The world we live in sadly changed forever when twenty children grade one students at Sandy Hook Elementary School and six grade school teachers were murdered last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. The sports world, sensing both a responsibility and an opportunity to actively participate in the growing national debate concerning gun control; many athletes and coaches demonstrated that on occasion sports can be more than about the games that are played, sports have an important role in the world in we live in and using that role offering comfort in troubling times.

Athletes began reaching out through their Twitter accounts early Friday soon after news of the tragic events began to unfold. Saturday NBA players were introduced before scheduled games embracing their children. Sunday, the National Football League observed a moment of silence before each of scheduled games; individual players offered their own personal tributes. Professional athletes are feeling the same sense of profound loss hundreds of millions of Americans have experienced in the last week.

New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz wrote Jack Pinto on the shoes he wore in last Sunday’s Giants game, a tribute to six-year old Jack Pinto. Cruz was Jack’s football hero. Tuesday, on his off day, Cruz drove from New York to Newtown to give Jack’s parents the shoes he wore as a tribute to young Jack. Jack was buried Monday wearing his number 80 New York Giants Victor Cruz football jersey.

“You don’t know whether to say thank you, you don’t know whether to say you appreciate it,” Cruz said, searching for words. “It just, it leaves you kind of blank. But I’m definitely honored by it. I’m definitely humbled by it. And it’s absolutely unfortunate, but it’s a humbling experience for me.

“We got to smile a little bit, which was good for them,” said Cruz, who listened to the family, played some of the Madden NFL video game with kids and even played some football in the front yard. “It was a time where I just wanted to be a positive voice, a positive light in a time where it can be really negative. They’re a great family, and they’re really united right now, and it was good to see.”

Newtown is less than 100 miles from New York City, the small Connecticut town home to many New York sports fans.

Donna Soto the mother of slain Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto received a surprise call from New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, Tuesday soon after Victoria’s funeral.

“Vicki loved the Yankees — that was part of her eulogy,” her cousin James Wiltsie said Wednesday night. “No one in the family reached out, so (Jeter) must have heard about it and ... reached out.

“It was a surprise and unexpected. Donna was ecstatic over it and very happy. She spoke to him for quite some time.”

Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson reached out to the family of Grace McDonnell, speaking with Grace’s 11-year old brother Jack Tuesday. Monday night Johnson wrote the names of the 20 children including Grace and six teachers on his cleats before he took the field against the New York Jets. During the game he set a franchise record with a 94-yard touchdown run as the Titans won 14-10.

“Jack seems like a really nice kid. It’s really a great family really, and my heart goes out to them,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It’s a situation where I just want to lift the family up, or lift anyone up who is going through such a tough time. Anything possible I can do to lift their spirits up a little bit, that’s all I want to do.

“They were excited to hear from me. I just wanted to give my condolences and make sure they stay strong and keep God first,” Johnson said. “When I talked to Jack, we mostly talked about the game. He told me he liked my run. I think his dad was a Jets fan before, but they are new Tennessee Titans fans now. It was a nice conversation.”

Mike Mu, Johnson’s manager, spoke with Chris McDonnell as well.

“He said they were cheering on the Jets and they saw C.J.’s shoes and thought it was a special thing he did,” Mu said. “He said they were cheering C.J. on during his 94-yard touchdown run, and they were all excited and smiling when C.J. crossed the goal line because ‘our family saw Grace crossing the end zone’ before C.J.”

Kevin Durant who plays for the Oklahoma Thunder wrote Newtown, CT. on his shoes before the Thunder’s 113-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers last Friday night.

“The way they have shown their support in the last few days is fabulous,” Newtown boys basketball coach Tim Tallcouch said of athletes such as Durant, Cruz and Co. “Even if their actions for a short time help ease the pain, it's worth it.”

“There's a lot more people than just myself thinking about them,” Durant said. “A lot of people are praying for them. I just happened to be one of the guys having a platform. Just having that platform, I wanted everybody to recognize them.

“Hopefully, it can help.”

Two college basketball coaches Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey and Syracuse Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim seized moments in time delivering powerful messages about the need for greater gun control in America.

Monday night Boeheim the third coach in NCAA history to win 900 or more games, an unforgettable moment from one of the greatest basketball coaches in college basketball history.

“This will probably offend some people,’’ Boeheim said, according to The Post Standard in Syracuse. “If we in this country as Americans cannot get the people that represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society. I’m a hunter. I’ve hunted. I’m not talking about rifles. That’s fine. If one person in this world; the NRA president, anybody, can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots in the thing. This is our fault. This is my fault and your fault. All of your faults if we don’t get out and do something about this.’’

What inspired Jim Boeheim to use his 900th win as a platform to talk about greater gun control in America? Appearing on the nationally syndicated Dan Patrick show, Boeheim offered this explanation.

“I thought about it all day. I was home before the game, I watched the all day shows and I remember specifically a congressman from Texas saying we really need to get guns in the hand of that lady, the lady that was the principal, so she could shoot this guy coming. I mean do we really have people in congress thinking that way? Is it possible. You cannot believe there is a thought process of thinking like that. To maybe get trained policeman in every school in the country you would probably have to have a couple of them in every grade school and pre-school and I mean that’s not possible. I think the least thing we can do is to get assault rifles out of the country.

“Well when are you going to use it? That was a good moment. There were a lot of cameras trained on me, I knew it would get attention, I knew it would get your attention, it was on a couple of other shows today and I’m sure a lot of NRA people are going to be writing me nasty e-mails. I just think we have to speak up. You do, I do, we have national platforms. Do you believe we should have assault rifles in this country? (Host: I believe it should be difficult to get certain weapons.) I think you can get a hand gun, a shotgun, or a rifle. I hunt, I used to hunt and I think you should be able to get all that stuff. You should have better background checks and I just don’t think we need 30 clip weapons. I just don’t. Let’s do something about it. If we can’t shame them into doing this then we can’t do much within our system.”

Tuesday evening Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey spoke to the media following his team’s 65-55 loss to Ohio State. Kelsey isn’t going to the Hall of Fame and won’t win 900 games, but he grabbed his moment in time to deliver a message.

"This has to be a time for change," he said. "And I know this microphone's powerful right now, because we're playing the (seventh)-best team in the country. I'm not going to have a microphone like this the rest of the year, maybe the rest of my life.

“I’m going to be an agent of change with the 13 young men I get to coach every day and the two little girls that I get to raise. But hopefully things start changing, because it's really, really disappointing.

“And I'm gonna give them the biggest hug and the biggest kiss I've ever given them. And there's 20 families in Newtown, Conn., that are walking into a pink room with a bunch of teddy bears with nobody laying in those beds. And it's tragic."

None of these men can change what took place last Friday. Because they work in the sports industry that were offered opportunities to comfort those in pain or send a message to tens of millions of Americans. Life will go on for these men and their families. Life will never be the same for the 26 families in Newtown, Connecticut.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom