In our society, we tend to hoist professional athletes on pedestals and, in turn, forget they are human. The fact that they have raw emotion, imperfections, and may even have a few secrets (gasp!) surprise many. When these athletes display an unnatural moment that discloses a crack in excellence, people take notice.
While watching the 2008 Home Run Derby, was there a person who did not come away from the experience not knowing that Josh Hamilton was a recovering drug addict? It was hammered into our minds repeatedly by the commentators as Hamilton put excitement into the contest.
While people are left in awe when they realize that their sports heroes deal with problems many “normal” people endure, we forget that we all share a common desire: we all have a need to achieve ultimate happiness.
Our paths to happiness vary, as do the destinations. One of the things that adorned my path was the game of baseball. As baseball began to play a bigger part in my life, my father bought me a book about one of these sports heroes, Dave Dravecky.
Comeback by Dravecky was the first baseball book I read. Page after page, I devoured each word about his life. I feasted on the details of his rise to the Majors. Once the details of his cancer were revealed, my hunger was not satisfied until the end of the book. Dravecky’s story allowed me to get a glimpse of human perseverance through the struggles of a professional athlete.
Last week, at the SF Giants game, I was excited to see Dravecky signing autographs before the game started.
He serves as a reminder of how, behind all the allure of the professional athlete’s life, there is humanity. In the public eye, many of these athletes deal with challenges with grace and professionalism that their million dollar contracts don’t require.
It must have been devastating for Dravecky to have an audience witness the end of his baseball career, but he took it in stride. Throughout his career, it was baseball that allowed him to progress on his path to happiness, but once he could no longer pitch, he didn’t let it derail him. He just found a new destination.
The cancer caused his pitching arm to be amputated. When his baseball career ended, his new career as a motivational speaker began to develop. While the life he leads is not the one he imagined when he was a talented teenage pitcher, he still continues to inspire.
While “normal” people deserve as much recognition for enduring the same hardships, the truth is that our society feeds off of the “famous.” In an era when many of our beloved athletes have reputations tainted with reports of less-than-admirable facts (if I hear “Mitchell Report” one more time…), it’s quite comforting that there are those who really do deserve this type of adoration.