Moral Courage and Sports: A Father's View From the Bleachers

Timothy RoachContributor IAugust 30, 2010

In all my years as a sports fan, I ran the gambit from fanatical to the overly fanatical. I have collected the cards, bought the tickets, purchased team jerseys, groveled for autographs and all the things we do as sports fans to feel like we contribute to our team.

I have met Nolan Ryan, Craig Biggio, Jay Novacek and a plethora of Dallas Cowboys. I have been in the garage area with Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and many more. Heck, I saw Elvis in concert as a kid but that’s a completely different story.Needless to say, I’ve been fortunate in the ways of sports.

In the fall of 1991 my first son, Joshua, was born and he brought with him all the joys a son could bring. My son brought Little League baseball back into my life and a renewed vigor for sports, if for nothing else, for the perceived job to carry on the love for his fathers favorite teams.

This seems like a right of passage, to have your boy right beside you on game day, to inject those team colors into his veins so he bleeds blue and silver, or red,white and blue; and whatever colors Mark Martin is carrying on his car.

My son and I went to Longhorn games and I made sure he was at the game Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton’s rushing record against Seattle.

I got caught up in the all the hoopla and almost, and I mean almost, lost sight of the little moments that make such things special: the eight hour drive up there, just me and Josh, the jokes and conversation and the pure thrill of my sons emotions during those games.

My second son, Tyler, was a Valentines Day baby, complete with the red hair and all. Tyler was to be my second case of sports overload, another son to impart my wisdom on, and to insure future generations of Texas sports. However, we soon found out that Tyler was born with a very rare Neuromuscular disease, Nemaline Rod Myopathy. This is when my perceptions on many things, including sports, changed.

I started to notice more than ever, professional athletes complain about the smallest of things: their ill regard for what was actually going on in the real world and in many cases, their waste of physical talents that many will never get to know.

Of course, this is not true of all athletes and certainly, selfishness and waste have a lengthy history in professional sports. In many ways, I set some of these athletes on a pedestal and chose to ignore their behavioral problems; overlooking the inherent cheating as long as my teams were better than yours (Is winning all that truly matters?).

But when you have a child that will never have the opportunities that many of these people squander, it tends to open your eyes to the business of sports and trust me, that’s not the end you want to look at. (They lack moral courage—heart regardless of pain)
It makes you lose sight of what sports really are, as you learn what true courage is all about.

My son Tyler, reminded me of what is really important in the short time we have here on this planet. He fought through multiple life threatening Pneumonias. He has smiled when I was the one who cried and at times, it was Tyler who was comforting me when it should have been his father comforting him. My son has shown courage beyond courage in the game of life and I came to find contempt for professional sports.

My oldest son, Josh, began playing football in the seventh grade and it became one of his greatest passions. From the time his younger brother was born, until Josh started playing in Junior High, I had forgotten what the true meaning of sports was and what had to be sacrificed to achieve your goals.

Josh has never been the fastest or the biggest on the many teams, but what he lacked in athletic ability, he made up with intelligence and heart. From the very first practice in the seventh grade through his last game of his senior year, he never missed a single practice or game. When Josh was a freshman, he broke a bone in the top of his foot, never said a word, came home, iced it and elevated it and played on. That same year he played basketball on the same broken foot and never complained.

As a junior in high school, he was playing iron man football, both offense and defense, which in many cases, is essential in a small town. Late in the season he received a vicious shot while playing defense and reported he had “a sore back.” He continued to suit up for practice and play with fervor in games.

We later found that he had broken a few vertebrae. He never once let onto those around him about how much pain he was in.Once again, he played basketball immediately after the football season and played some second base for his one and only year of high school baseball. By this time, the wear and tear was getting to him and he slept on ice and spent several hours per week with his physical therapists.

For the months leading up to Josh’s senior year, we had a Orthopedic Surgeon work with him. We had MRI’s done, x-rays taken, and had him on electronic stimulation as he continued a grueling schedule of physical therapy.

We consulted specialists to find out if he could play his Senior year. In the course of this, it was learned that he has Schermanns disease which affects his back and contributed to an imbalance in his hips. I do believe that even if the Doctors had advised against him playing one more year we would have had to lock him in his room to keep him away from the field. We were assured that he could do no more damage to himself and it would be all about how he could handle the pain.

I can hear parents now: you should of disallowed it, forbade it, and just told him no.
Let’s put it this way, when you have one child that is totally incapable of realizing many of his aspirations and dreams, you cannot deny the other one his.

Anyway, Josh made it through two a days and prior to the first game he developed turf toe, which is quite painful. I watched him grimace coming off the field, I watched him limp behind the coach’s back and then I watched as he experienced what all the pain and sacrifice was for.

In the third quarter he was playing his usual swing or some might say tight end depending on the formation. He ran what can best be described as a modified post route where he turned straight up between the hashes. There was a defender right on his hip and the ball was thrown right over his right shoulder, he made the catch and raced the next thirty yards into the end zone.

That was a 55-yard play that invigorated the team and propelled them to victory. That was the day it all came together for me. That was the day I witnessed true moral courage and why people give so much for something they love.

I’ve heard and used the line about living vicariously through our children, about glory days long gone that get to be relived through our kids successes, but I could truly never do such a thing because I could never see myself with the courage my two boys have displayed.

Earlier this year at the Athletic Awards banquet, Josh received the Iron Eagle award, given to the player that overcame adversity and exhibited true courage. That award was more precious in my eyes than being named to the Honorable Mention Academic All State football team.

My sons are my heroes and if I’m ever half the men they already are then that would be something.