Humility in the modern sports arena is hard to find. Even a casual sports fan can relate to Lou Gehrig’s moment of humility when he stood before the crowd at Yankee Stadium to claim that he was “the luckiest man alive,”
Those words rang clear and forged a bond with the crowd.
Twenty-eight year old Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galaragga was flirting with history on a recent Thursday night. He had sat down 26 opposing hitters in order. The 27th batter hit a ball to the Tigers second baseman who in turn fielded the ball and flipped it to Galaragga covering first. First base umpire Jim Joyce, a veteran MLB umpirem unflinchingly called the runner safe. The stadium exploded with protests and boos.
Galaragga, unfazed by the recent activity, collected the third out.His perfect game became a one-hit shutout and the ultimate nightmare for Joyce.
Though that one incident increases the instant replay argument, Joyce realized his mistake and apologized to Galaragga and the Tigers. The call could not be changed but Joyce showed humility by admitting his mistake and wanting to make amends to everyone involved.
Joyce was the home plate umpire the next day and in show of support to Joyce, Tigers manager sent Galaragga with the line up card for the pre-game meeting.
A great reminder of humility in sports came with the passing of John Wooden on Friday night. Wooden led UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA Basketball Championships. He never embarrassed a player or cursed. Throughout all of those championship years Wooden did not pace the sideline. He sat in his chair with his folded program tapping against his fingers watching the game very carefully and critically.
Unlike in our time, when college programs conduct midnight madnesses to get fans excited, Wooden’s first practice wasn’t a slam dunk contest.
The first thing he did was to teach his players the proper way to put on their socks and shoes to avoid blisters. Wooden did this because he ran tough practices and blisters would affect a player’s performance.
The players who played for Wooden reads like a Who’s Who list of basketball: Lew Alcindor later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gail Goodrich, Bill Walton, and Walt Hazzard among others. Walton had identified with the hippie movement of the late 1960’s and let his hair grow out. He came to the next year’s practice and Wooden would not allow long hair and simply told Walton they would miss him if he could not follow the rules.
Wooden never talked about winning and losing. He simply reminded his players that they had to work hard and play hard and if they did the winning and losing takes care of itself.
He believed that once someone became a good person that would be a direct influence on how good of basketball player they became. Humility is a vanishing trait, but twice in the past week it has come to the forefront of sports. Galragga’s one-hitter and the reflection of Coach Wooden’s show that character and humility are some of the most important qualities that sports should develop and reflect.
Wood is a freelance writer and high school coach.