It’s time for the annual ‘thanks’ column – for the past few years, I review some things in the sports world that I’m thankful for, and then spend some time going ‘off the field’ with some real-world thanks. In some ways this year’s column is going to look a lot like last year’s (hard to believe that column is a year old already – how time flies!), so let’s get right to it.
-A year ago I wrote about Sidney Crosby, here’s an excerpt from that column: “We’ll talk a lot more hockey as the season progresses, but after reading this article and watching just how dominant he has been for much of this season (and most of his career), I’m thankful to be able to watch Sidney Crosby ply his craft in Pittsburgh…He also is not afraid to go to the front of the net and take the hits to get goals. With so many cases throughout sports of failed potential, seemingly uncaring stars, and ‘contract year’ players, it’s so refreshing to see a world-class athlete play so hard every time.”
Little did I realize when I wrote those words that just over a month later Crosby would take two hard hits…and be gone for almost 11 months. Monday night he returned to the Penguin lineup to much fanfare and national attention, and there’s a great story to tell there about properly managing a concussion, not rushing back and risking a debilitating recurrence…but that’s another story for another day. I’m just thankful that a transcendent talent like Crosby gets another chance to use his gifts and entertain hockey fans around the world, and more importantly that he has a great chance to live his life symptom-free and in good health.
-I mention often that sports are ‘the toy department’ of life, that it’s important to keep them in perspective – but this past year I’ve been very thankful to have that ‘toy department’. I’ll get into some of the reasons below, but suffice it to say that my family has been through quite a bit this year, and sports definitely helped with some of the healing/grieving we went through. Whether it was taking my mom to see Game Seven of the Pens’ playoff series last April, or recording Game 7 of the 1960 World Series for my grandfather to watch – a game he heard on the radio live, but had never seen in 50 years – events like that served as a very healthy break from heartache, and I’m very thankful to have had those moments, and feel very fortunate to have had access to both events.
-On a similar note, sports fans have to realize what a golden age we live in when it comes to being a fan of ANY sport. You name a sport that you like, and chances are that you can get access to it, either through the 600+ channels available via satellite, or via the internet. I grew up in a house without cable or satellite, the only channel available was PBS, and getting to someone’s house to actually watch a baseball game was a rare treat – and watching a hockey game on TV was so rare, I never actually did it until I was 17. This year, if I so chose I could have watched all 162 Pirate games either on TV or on the computer, and all 82 Penguin games as well – this was unheard of as recently as 2006! College football, hoops, dirt racing, even soccer and lacrosse are available much more than they were a few years ago. Enjoy your sport of choice in moderation, of course, but DO enjoy it – our access is unparalleled in history.
-I had some pretty harsh words for my alma mater two weeks ago, and while I meant them, wouldn’t take them back, and think that a lot of evil was allowed to transpire while able-bodied people stood by and either did nothing or didn’t do enough, I’m thankful that the university has responded and responded forcefully – by terminating employees, launching an investigation (headed by an independent party, a former director of the FBI), and by at least TRYING to be more transparent about the process. Those actions were necessary and now are done – it is time to let the investigation and the legal processes play out, and to think about the victims and innocent parties involved here (the current players, for example, were caught up in a situation totally out of their control). As disturbed as I am that it took this long for all of this to come to light, I’m thankful that it did before more children were put in harm’s way. I’m thankful that both Penn State and recent opponents Ohio State and Nebraska have responded with such class on and off the field, and I think the healing process can now begin for all involved.
-Now for the ‘off the field’ section – as I mentioned above, it was a rough year for my family, particularly this spring. We lost my grandmother Tish Ogden in March, and while I acknowledge that she was almost 80 and had lived a full life, it was still hard for us to watch the last few weeks of her life. A couple of years ago I mentioned how my grandfather Carl was my inspiration in so many ways…well, Tish, or ‘Sweet’ as we called her, was often the glue that held our family together. She always comported herself with such grace and dignity that it was impossible to not trust and respect her – and I often went to her for advice on important issues.
We barely had time to recover from that loss when my sister Becky suddenly became ill in early April. Now, my sister had been battling illness all her life – she was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that destroys lung tissue. Missing 40-50 school days a year was par for the course for her, and she very nearly died when she was 22 – but a double-lung transplant in 1999 saved her life and gave her another 12 years of relative health. Unfortunately, transplants = rejection = anti-rejection meds=suppressed immune system, and so even a common cold was a very real threat to Becky’s life. This year, Becky caught what seemed like a cold, but was later determined to be the swine flu, in the first week of April. When she suddenly felt much worse she was taken to the Clearfield ER, shipped to Pittsburgh – and was gone 40 hours later. They say you often don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – my sister was feisty and marched to her own tune, and we had many a disagreement growing up – but she was as strong-willed, funny, and cheerful as anyone I’ve ever met, and I miss her dearly.
Becky’s 35th birthday is Thanksgiving Day this year – it will be hard, with two empty seats at the table, but we will enjoy our turkey and be thankful for the time we had with her, thankful that she didn’t suffer at the end, and thankful that her work with the CF Foundation and Make-A-Wish helped raise awareness and give so many other kids a chance to fight, and defeat, this horrible disease. Mostly I’m thankful that her lifelong fight is over and she can finally rest. Happy Birthday Beck – I miss you.
There are a lot of great causes in this country, but if you have money to spare and are looking for a good place to donate, may I recommend the Western PA Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. They are close to really getting the upper hand on CF – Becky’s fight is over, but there are about 30,000 other people, mostly kids, struggling with this disease. My family and I are thankful, now and forever, for any help you can give to those kids and their families.
This column is off next week, but will return the week of December 5th.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.