ESPOSITO: Sports’ truly heroic acts often unnoticed

Nick Esposito

As kids we idolize athletes. We place them on dangerously high pedestals and consider them immortal. Children wear their jerseys as they wear superhero capes because, to them, a jersey makes them flawless and completely and utterly invincible. We grew up with athletes as our heroes with the hope that one day we would walk in their humongous shoes.

But as we grow older those athletes become more real and, to the disappointment of our childhood-selves, they become human, completely equipped with imperfections and mistakes. As time goes on, we hear our share of contract holdouts, scandals and locker room conflicts that begin to leave us desensitized to the circus of sports. This summer was not different as their invincibility was questioned.

As our heroes scratched and clawed to keep their place atop their respective sports, I became discouraged and began to question my passion for sports.

My sports depression was short lived because I opened the newspaper and liked what I saw. Hidden deep within it, behind the health care debate, fighting in the Middle East and Kanye’s outburst were stories of good deeds by good people. Suddenly my faith in my heroes had returned. I was reminded of the reason why I watch an obsessive amount of sports every week and why I truly love being a fan.

The first story that caught my eye was one that could make even the biggest hulk-like men cry. Detroit Tigers’ All-Star Brandon Inge is a big hitter, but to the kids at Mott’s Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., he is an even bigger hero. Inge and his wife give of their fortune to the hospital to improve its facilities and equipment. The hospital declared that Sept. 2 was “Brandon and Shani Inge Day.”

Inge came to hang out with the children for the afternoon. One of the children was an 8-year-old named Tommy Schoemaker who idolized Inge. Schoemaker was in need of a heart transplant and was beginning to lose hope. The two met at a seemingly perfect time. Brandon gave Schoemaker his cell phone number and they became friends. Then, one particular day, Schoemaker gave Inge an unusual request.

“Can you hit a home run for me?” This request startled Inge for tales of promised home runs resided in the long history of Babe Ruthian folklore. Schoemaker autographed Inge’s arm, leaving a symbol of his promise for the game that night. And that night, with the Tigers trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, Inge delivered a two-run homer, putting Detroit ahead to stay. As soon as the ball cleared the wall, Schoemaker jumped out of bed, causing his bedside heart monitor to go crazy.

His friends from the wing rushed into his room, pulling along their IV’s to congratulate Schoemaker. For the first time this sick little boy heard his name on television and was, in his own way, a hero. A typically even-keeled Inge was seen crying in the dugout, breaking down in the magnitude of the moment.

This past week I spotted another good deed that was unfortunately overshadowed by Serena Williams’ tirade and Roger Federer’s bleep under his breath. Vince Young, the back-up quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, did a good thing. St. Paul Christian Academy in Tennessee has an annual “Dear Dads Breakfast” at the Pancake Pantry in downtown Nashville. Two of the kids at the school are Trenton and Tyler McNair, who lost their father to a tragic incident on July 4 and were upset that they wouldn’t be able to attend.

Young showed up unexpectedly to take McNair’s kids to the breakfast. It was a great gesture that followed up Young’s pledge to McNair’s family that they could always count on him. McNair’s children were able to go to the breakfast with essentially their big brother, and I doubt the fact that he plays professional football ever entered their minds.

Steve McNair’s kids don’t think of Vince Young as a hero because he has a lot of money, and they don’t seem to care that he isn’t the starter. Brandon Inge isn’t a hero to the kids at Mott’s Children’s Hospital because he is shattering the record books or because he has “bling” or a cool car. They look up to these heroes because they give their time and show they care.

Often we get discouraged and disappointed with our athletes because we don’t think they can do the right thing. We think they are greedy and selfish, but every day, hundreds of our athlete heroes choose to do the right thing.

It might not show up on the front page and draw all of the headlines, but the best part about it is they don’t do it for the headlines. That is what makes them so heroic.


Nick Esposito is a junior communication major from Skillman, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].