Sports can be a joyful thing at times.
Watching the faces of the European Ryder Cup team as they completed their historic comeback yesterday gave me goose bumps. In a sport where most major victories are punctuated with a fist pump, maybe a hug or two, and a wave of the cap, these otherwise reserved gentlemen were screaming and dancing with complete reckless abandon like school children on the first day of summer vacation. Martin Kaymer, whose reaction barely registered after his 2010 PGA Championship victory, was nearly in tears during his interview following that decisive par putt, the joy on his face pure and unapologetic.
Other times sports can be cathartic, even therapeutic. It was impossible not to be touched by that scene in the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room as Torrey Smith, overcome with emotion after the tragic death of the younger brother he helped raise, thanked his teammates for their love and support, each of them in turn responding with the deepest of heartfelt compassion. This huddled mass comprising some of the toughest, most physically intimidating men on the planet, each setting aside their individual egos to come together as one unified whole, hands clasped in solidarity, their genuine concern and collective grief visible for all the world to see.
But when it is at its best, sports, and the communities that surround them, are an incredibly powerful galvanizing force; our love for a game, the players that play it, and the coaches that coach it, uniting towns, cities, states, and even nations in a concentrated effort toward something positive, something meaningful. This is one of those times.
Today it was announced that Indianapolis Colts’ head coach, Chuck Pagano, has been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a disease that, while treatable, falls into the “percentage chance” category, a place we all hope never to be but understand is an ever looming reality of our fragile human existence.
Chuck is by all accounts, and I do mean all, a wonderful man and great leader, and his decision today to make his condition public is just another example of that courageous character that has led so many to love and respect him.
It would have perhaps been easier, and completely understandable, to announce an undisclosed illness, to politely ask for privacy, to fight this fight in relative anonymity, free from public scrutiny during this, the most challenging, and no doubt terrifying, time of his life. But that’s not Chuck.
As someone who is even now dealing with the death of a family member to cancer, I can attest that the experience is exhaustively difficult and exceedingly personal. In this media crazed world it can be easy to forget that these figures we see on our television screen are human, that their emotional vulnerabilities and deep seeded insecurities are no different from our own. It takes true courage and self-sacrifice to open yourself up the way Coach Pagano has, to embrace a life-threatening situation as a chance to be a force for positive change in the lives of others.
A quick twitter search of the hashtag #chuckstrong will tell you everything you need to know about the point I’m trying to make, every third tweet a link to some new fundraising campaign. Across the state and around the country, players, coaches, and sports writers are talking about Chuck and his disease, spreading the word on leukemia and with each new donation increasing the odds that this deadly ailment will one day be a thing of the past.
Today is a sad day for Chuck Pagano, his family, the Colts’ organization, and us as fans, but it is also a day that we should say thank you to our Coach, by allowing his deeply personal struggle to be made public he has brought the full force of this great sports community to bear, and in so doing helped to improve the lives of the countless leukemia survivors that are sure to follow in his wake.