SABATO: With open mind, sports spotlights life lessons and relationships

Ed Reed speaks during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement on Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. (Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports)

Stick to sports.

It is a phrase that is thrown around frequently when an athlete or coach offers an opinion on a subject outside of the realm of sports.

When I flipped on the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Saturday, I expected to see the typical mix of chest pounding stories and prolonged verbal thank you cards. Each of the inductees produced those moments, but the final three speakers -- Ed Reed, Champ Bailey and Tony Gonzalez -- surprised me.

All three men expounded on social issues at length, and while they were praised by many, there were also the ‘stick to sports’ sentiments on social media. Most of the complaints directed toward professional athletes and coaches is based on politics, but it runs deeper than that.

At one time, every athlete and coach got involved in sports for the love of the game. The majority still do, but the pool seeking to use sports as a means to an end is ever increasing. As a result, the relationship between players and coaches and parents and coaches have changed.


One of the reasons I fell in love with high school sports at a young age was the purity. It was more about everything that factored into the sport than the competition. Youth and prep sports allow coaches to teach their pupils life lessons, not just how to win games.

Coaches were so often considered to be true mentors or parent-like figures. Teamwork and discipline are the most commonly used traits associated with sports, but there are so many more lessons that can be applied in everyday adulthood.

My time in sports taught me that failure was acceptable as long as you learned from errors that led to the failures. I learned that if I accept my deficiencies, it can help accentuate my strengths. Some of my coaches were also some of my greatest influences.

During my four years of high school, I had a chance to sit next to Mike Rapone, one of the top-four winningest coaches in New York State basketball history and the biggest influence on my childhood outside of my parents. Many of his lessons are still applicable, including that you don’t have to raise your voice to make a point heard.

Sadly, those same lectures are not given or accepted as frequently. Coaches are judged more on winning than ever before and some have little care for a player aside from their athletic ability. Conversely, some parents and players -- unrealistically or not -- see a coach as a conduit to earning a scholarship.

So when Reed said, "Everyone has their own greatness and you reach your own greatness depends on your environment, your structure, the company you keep and your attitude," it struck me.

In high school, my environment, structure and friends shape and prepare me, not only for college, but for life as an adult. Nobody can deny winning is more fun than losing, but sports became special because of the relationships created, something Gonzalez hit on during his closing remarks.

"True success is about more than making a lot of money or being recognized as one of the best at what you do," Gonzalez said. "True success is about giving back. It's about kindness. It's about quality of relationships. It's about finding joy in other people's joy.”


If we continue to stick to sports, so many people are going to miss out on special moments, friendships and lessons. We all have positive messages and experiences to share and the world will be a better place if we pass them along.

As Reed said, “That's what being a human is about, leaving this place better than when we got it.”

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