Nationals

Column: Sport can help lead us down a better path

201212161339491401537-p2.jpeg

Column: Sport can help lead us down a better path

There are times when sports bring out the best in us.

Like Victor Cruz writing a heartfelt message on his cleats, dedicated to a 6-year-old victim of the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

There are times when sports bring out the worst in us.

Not even 72 hours removed from the horror in Newtown, there were racist tweets blasting NBC for pre-empting its regular Sunday night football coverage to show President Obama's speech from that devastated community. One of the tweets apparently was sent by a walk-on player at the University of North Alabama (who quickly became a former player).

Sports, of course, had nothing to do with Adam Lanza's walking into that school and killing 26 people, most of them innocent little kids filled with nothing but hope and wonder and goodness. America needs to come to grips with truly important issues: gun control, mental illness, a violent culture among them.

Yet, we need sports - perhaps more than ever - to help us get started on that path toward being a better nation, a better people, a better world. Maybe, just maybe, in some small way the games we play can show us how to be a little nicer to each other, or at least more respectful.

The athletes can lead the way. Their actions have meaning, now more than ever.

So, instead of ranting at the ref for blowing a call, try to remember there's more at stake than a game. Instead of hitting someone after the whistle or getting so enraged that injuring the guy in the other uniform seems a worthy option, try to remember there's more at stake than a game. Instead of standing triumphantly over a vanquished foe, trumpeting themselves at the expense of someone else, try to remember there's more at stake than a game.

So many are watching.

Given the huge importance we place on what happens in our stadiums and arenas, sports are again positioned, just as they were after 9/11 and other national horrors, to help us uncover some meaningful purpose to an utterly senseless tragedy.

Let's not waste it this time.

There's no doubting the power of sports to lift people up, to inspire us to greater heights, to bring us together as one. There's no doubting the power of sports to console the grieving, to comfort the ailing, to make it easier to move on when we can barely find the strength for our next breath.

``Sports is one of the most effective consolations for people dealing with grief,'' said Ron Marasco, a professor at Loyola Marymount University who has written a book on dealing with loss. ``In the early stages of grief, isolation and loneliness are the biggest problems. That shared communal experience of sports is actually a very healthy thing.''

Just look at what Cruz, a receiver for the New York Giants, did during Sunday's game in Atlanta against the Falcons. He was the favorite player of Jack Pinto, one of those whose life ended on what should've been just another day at school, such a hero to the child that his family planned to bury him Monday in one of Cruz's No. 80 jerseys.

``R.I.P. Jack Pinto,'' Cruz wrote on his playing shoes, along with ``Jack Pinto, my hero'' and ``This one is for you.'' It didn't really matter that the Giants played one of their worst games of the season, losing 34-0.

Such is the power of sports.

``With a family facing that much tragedy, you want to be someone that inspires them, someone that can put a smile on their face at a time where it's tough to do that,'' Cruz said after a loss on the field but a win in life.

That said, sports must do more.

Let's have a serious discussion about all that is wrong with the games we play. The misplaced priorities. The sense of life and death when nothing could be further from the truth. And, especially, the nastiness and hatred it stirs from deep within our souls.

Not long after Cruz played with a heavy heart, we got a sampling of that other side on Twitter.

Some used social media to dole out racist vitriol against Obama while demonstrating how utterly meaningless their own lives must be, since they apparently thought the first quarter of the San Francisco-New England game was more important than a president's stirring words in Newtown.

One of the tweets was reportedly sent by Bradley Patterson, a walk-on long snapper who joined North Alabama's NCAA Division II football team during the season, though he never actually played. Now, he won't get the chance; the school said he was no longer welcome on the team, even as a blocking dummy in practice.

While those such as Patterson, who were actually willing to type out their ugly thoughts in 140 characters or less, make up a very small minority, there was surely a much greater number muttering to themselves about missing their football while Obama spoke, totally oblivious to the suffering in Connecticut.

That's why it's time for all of us to look in the mirror, to not let another tragedy pass without some meaningful change.

So, instead of punching someone in the face down at the local bar because they trash-talked your favorite team, try to remember there's more at stake than a game. Instead of posting a vile tweet about a coach's mental capacity because you think he made the wrong call, try to remember there's more at stake than a game. Instead of screaming an obscenity at an 18-year-old kid because he dropped a pass or threw an interception, try to remember there's more at stake than a game.

This is not in any way suggesting we shouldn't strive for triumph as much as we ever did. Celebrate it, too.

Life has always been about the Ws and the Ls.

But we can play nice, or at least nicer.

That would be the best way for sports to remember Newtown.

---

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Quick Links

Scott Boras holds all the cards representing Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg

Scott Boras holds all the cards representing Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg

When Stephen Strasburg opted out of the remaining four years of his contract with the Nationals in November, the team understood it wasn’t going to be the only club bidding for his services.

So when reports broke that the New York Yankees were among the teams meeting with Strasburg, one of the premiere free agents on the market, it likely came as no surprise to the Nationals’ brass in D.C.

But after ESPN reported Thursday that the Yankees have made fellow top free agent starter Gerrit Cole “their clear offseason priority,” the man representing both of them has all the leverage.

On NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast this week, Todd Dybas sat down with fellow beat writers Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post and MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.

When talking about Strasburg’s prospects as a free agent, Dybas pointed to the unique situation the Nationals and Yankees, among other teams, are facing while courting the top two starters of free agency.

“We kind of have a weird dynamic because Scott Boras has the No. 1 pitcher and the No. 1A pitcher,” Dybas said. “It’s not two agents playing off of each other. It’s one guy probably playing his guys against each other going forward and trying to run up both their prices concurrently.”

The Yankees’ interest alone is enough to drive up the expected prices of both Strasburg and Cole. But as Collier notes, New York hasn’t dug too deep into its pockets over the last few seasons.

“The name, the Yankees, still carries so much weight and fear—for people who think they’re going to lose all their best players to the Yankees—but that’s just not the way the team has operated for the last handful of years or so,” Collier said.

However, if the ESPN report rings true and the Yankees do offer Cole a record-setting contract, that would certainly take them out of the running for Strasburg. Yet the high-spending Los Angeles Dodgers are also rumored to be in on Strasburg, meaning the Yankees’ pursuit of Cole likely won’t do much to reduce the price for the Nationals’ free agent.

In fact, Boras could use the fact that Cole’s price is so unaffordable for most teams and try to convince other clubs that Strasburg is a bargain. That could pull more teams into the bidding war and drive up his price.

Dybas believes Strasburg will sign for six years and $200 million, while Dougherty thinks Boras will seek a similar contract to the one another one of his clients received: Max Scherzer and his seven-year, $210 million deal he signed with Washington in 2015.

For their full conversation about both Strasburg and fellow free agent Anthony Rendon, you can listen to the Nationals Talk podcast on Art19, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Rui Hachimura may have had his best NBA game yet against the Sixers

hachimura_sixers.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Rui Hachimura may have had his best NBA game yet against the Sixers

WASHINGTON -- When Wizards coaches and executives rave about Rui Hachimura's potential to be a two-way player, they mean he can play just like he did on Thursday night in the team's 119-113 win over the Sixers.

It was arguably Hachimura's best game yet as an NBA player, a well-rounded performance of 27 points (11-18 FG), seven rebounds and two steals. He didn't set career-highs in any major category, but he was effective on both ends of the floor.

On offense, he lived in the midrange, making the Sixers pay for leaving him open from 15 to 20 feet out. He had 15 points in the second quarter alone.

And on the other end, he did an excellent job playing team defense. He kept an eye on his man while also knowing when to strike on double-teams.

Add it all up and even Hachimura believes it was probably his most complete game so far.

"I think it might be," Hachimura said. "I helped the team defensively and offensively."

There was one play on defense that stood out that didn't show up in the box score. The Wizards employed double-teams on Sixers star Joel Embiid all night and in the second half Hachimura charged in to help with Embiid in the post. He swatted at the ball with perfect timing to bounce it off Embiid's knee and out of bounds for a turnover.

It was the type of play that displayed Hachimura's instincts for team defense. And though it may take time for him to develop into a reliable on-ball defender, like most young players, he can be effective by doing things away from the ball just like that.

Brooks is already seeing rapid improvement from Hachimura defensively.

"They have two guys that are incredible at shot fakes [Embiid and Al Horford], and we all know that he's had some problems with that early in the year. But the last couple of games, especially tonight, he has stayed down on all those shot fakes. So that's another growing area of his game on a defensive end," Brooks said.

Offensively, though, is where Hachimura is shining most so far. And after scoring 27 against the Sixers, he is now averaging 22 over his last four games while shooting 54.4 percent. His 14.1 points per game average on the season is fifth among rookies and his 5.7 rebounds per game are second. He also has the highest offensive rating (112.9) in his rookie class.

Hachimura has to learn to be more consistent, like most rookies, and especially on defense. But the potential for him to be a two-way player is certainly there, as he showed on Thursday night.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: