Sunday, May 1, 2011

Some Thoughts on Character and the Athlete

Living in North Carolina the newspapers here were filled with stories about the Carolina Panthers football team making college superstar and Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton their #1 pick in the draft. For those who may not know,Newton is considered to be an absolutely incredible football talent. There was however many concerns expressed prior to the draft about his past behaviour which involved dishonesty and criminal actions. Critics also voiced concern about Newton having a less than ideal work ethic. You may recall that about a year ago there was an investigation into the fact that his father was "shopping" around the rights to draft his son for $200,000. Still, Cam Newton was the #1 choice in this years pro-football draft.Character issues were evaluated and found to be unimportant. On a related note, a leading football writer,Mel Kiper jr, had this to say about those who voted against Newton for the Heisman Trophy because of his past behaviour:"they should have their right to vote taken away." This statement is all the more astonishing when you take into account that one of the criteria for being awarded the Heisman is that the recipient should be a person of good character. Good character isn't a factor in pro-sports anymore,you only have to read your sports section throughout the year and you will read of pro-athletes geting into every imaginable kind of trouble on what seems to be at least a monthly basis. ESPN periodically runs features on athletes who were blessed with so much talent but failed because of a lack of discipline and good character.No matter what the sports world has to say,we all know that character is important and it matters. Let me now speak of another Newton,a man named Joe Newton. He has been the cross-country coach at York High School in Elmhurst Illinois for over 50 years. His teams have won 27 State and 20 National Cross-Country championships. He is a living legend in the world of running.Joe believes that character building is as vital in training his athletes as is team building.I couldn't help but think of this quote by Joe Newton when I heard the media last week dismissing character as being an issue in regards to the other Newton; Joe said this: "A person can have some talent and some character and have the chance to succeed,but, if he has tons of talent and no character he will fail. Players like Ryan Leaf,Jeff George and Todd Marinovich came to mind,guys who had tremendous talent but lacked the character needed and as a result failed.I close with one last quote by Joe and as I do I wonder if the reason we are producing more troubled athletes than ever before is because their coaches perhaps lack the right character or simply think it's all about the talent,nothing else. Newton adapts a quote by Plato and says: "The duty of coaching is to make good people because good people act nobly. That's my goal. I'm trying to make good people that will act nobly and go on to be doctors and lawyers.That's the story of coaching,it's more than running." Amen to that Joe.

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