Finding The Humanity In Sports

It’s easy for me to sit behind this keyboard and bash Maximilano Urruti, a 23-year-old forward from Rosario, Argentina. I’ve been doing it a lot lately.

I’ve been hammering Urruti because he’s very good at soccer. He reminds me of Jorge Perlaza, who was in town last week and watched the Seattle match at Providence Park.

Like Perlaza, Urruti doesn’t play a very intelligent game. He can’t or won’t stay on his feet, and he isn’t good with the ball. Both these guys make good plays and score from time to time, but they’re liabilities on the field.

Now, would I say that all to Urruti’s face? Probably not. Not because I don’t believe what I’m saying is true, or because Urruti scares me – let’s face it, he scares no one, least of all center-backs. I don’t think I’d say all that to Urruti because it isn’t nice. It isn’t right.

Kenny Cooper started his first game back in Portland last weekend with Seattle. He was loudly booed when his name was announced in the Sounders lineup, and jeered throughout the match.

Of course, Cooper got his "revenge" – he scored in the second minute of the match, but he didn’t celebrate his goal.

When asked about it after the match, he said, "I was treated so well by these fans when I was here. I look back with such great memories. I’m very appreciative and grateful for the way they treated me when I was here. I would never want to disrespect them."

If you talk to people in MLS, they’ll tell you Cooper is the greatest guy in the league – kind, thoughtful, and caring.

He sounds like a giant Texan teddy bear in interviews – okay, that’s also how he plays most of the time – and of all people, he should be the opposition player Timbers fans never boo, whether he’s wearing Rave Green or the All White of Real Madrid.

I bring all of this up because about a week ago, Daniel Murphy left the New York Mets for the first few days of the Major League Baseball season to be with his wife while she gave birth to their son.

This is what New York sports radio host Mike Francesa said about Murphy’s decision: "One day I understand. And in the old days they didn’t do that. But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help."

Francesa, best known for falling asleep on air, flailed when he found out that his radio station WFAN gives ten days of paternity leave. He called it a "scam," and a "gimmick."

He crowed, "That’s ridiculous, what the heck do you need 10 days for? What are you supposed to be doing, vacationing?"

Francesa wasn’t the only New York talking head to say something shocking.

Boomer Esiason, co-host of the morning show on the same radio network, said that Murphy should have told his wife to "have a C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day, I’m sorry."

His partner, Craig Carton, earnestly agreed. His take was, "Assuming the birth went well, the wife is fine, the baby is fine, 24 hours and then you get your ass back to your team and you play baseball."

Yeah! Take that, Murphy, you good husband and good father!

The lesson here is, don’t lose track of who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Sports can be a place where humanity works.

There will always be guys like Francesa and Esiason, but if guys like Kenny Cooper get cheered in Portland, sports is doing something right.

During the Richie Incognito – Jonathan Martin bullying saga, it was almost as common to hear people basing Martin for not "standing up for himself" and not "being a man" as it was to hear people empathize with Martin.

I’ve heard all the excuses: That sports are too macho to change. That locker-rooms aren’t instruments of social change. That all you can be concerned with is winning.

I hear all the time that I can’t write whatever I want about any professional athletes because once you turn pro, you have to handle that stuff. As if the minute you get paid for playing sports, you lose your humanity.

It’s a cop out. That mindset is a wall to hide behind.

People say that sports don’t matter – and while I can point them to stories about Bob Bradley, Gisele Currier, Atticus Lane-Dupre and whoever else I have encountered in my short writing career and hugely limited viewpoint on the world of sports, I know that when we listen to Francesa, and scream at Kenny Cooper for being traded to the wrong team, those people are right to some extent.

One of the reasons the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year was because Pete Carroll and the ‘Hawks coaching staff places a huge value on their players’ mind and happiness.

The Seahawks have sports psychologists, and therapists, and Carroll’s upbeat veneer isn’t an accident; it’s a calculated way of being in sports.

Carroll gets derided for it. But he’s possibly the most successful football coach of his generation. The atmosphere he creates and prides himself on makes people enjoy football – a real rarity in the cutthroat, cave-man world of the NFL.

The Seahawks Super Bowl win was a triumph for Carroll’s school of thought – even in the NFL, caring about people works.

If you think there’s no place for humanity in sports, you’re selling sports short.

Remember that next time Kenny Cooper is in town. Remember that when you hear the next Francesa or Incognito. Root for your team. Root for the good guys. And then sports will mean something every day.

Alright guys, I don't believe I have to say this but, just in case, please do not submit anything racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise not appropriate for even the younger Timbers fans.

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