I had the baseball experience of a lifetime the other night when I had the privilege of watching the Red Sox win the pennant in Game 6 of their playoff with the Detroit Tigers. What a memorable, extraordinary game with its highs and lows, homers and errors and culminating outburst of unrestrained jubilation at victory in the game, the series, the season.
But even more memorable for me was something that happened in the stands, well after the game was over. A friend and I were watching the on-field celebration from the box seats immediately adjacent to the Tigers’ dugout. Naturally, most of the Tigers and their staff had disappeared immediately after the game. However, a few remained behind, and were glumly and silently observing the Red Sox’s jubilation.
A beefy, 30-something man was standing next to us. My friend had generously offered to help him take a picture of himself with the celebration going on in the background. A few minutes later, this man glared into the Tigers dugout and with no provocation whatsoever, reeled off a string of nasty, gloating, “rub their noses in it,” abusive comments to the Tigers group which had been quietly minding its own business. Understandably, one of them responded with an obscenity directed at the attacker, an insult he’d fully earned from my perspective, and I said so to my friend. The guy didn’t take the insult well, he got his back up, began to get pugnacious and my friend, in a barely audible voice, urged the overheated young man to cool it. He paused, the Tigers group left. The incident was over. Nothing else was said.
I thought of all the bullying and coarse behavior our culture encourages, even endorses, and how seldom we celebrate examples, like this one, of civility and sportsmanship.
A few minutes later, one of the Tigers’ senior officials came into the dugout by himself. My friend, spotting the Tigers official, leaned into the dugout and said, “You have a great team. You had a good season. Congratulations. You’ll be back next year.”
“Thank you so much,” replied the Tiger.
At this, the formerly antagonistic guy, who had overheard this exchange, turned to my friend and said, “That was nice. I shouldn’t have said what I said. I let myself get carried away. I was an a$&h*#e. I shouldn’t let that happen to me.” My friend shook his hand and said, “We’re all working to be better. Good for you.”
I thought it was as stunning and effective a demonstration of the power of positive example as I’d ever seen. The educator in me marveled. I thought of all the bullying and coarse behavior our culture encourages, even endorses, and how seldom we celebrate examples, like this one, of civility and sportsmanship. My friend had delivered a much needed, very pointed and masterful lesson on being gracious in victory.
In the coming days, in the glow of the World Series, we’ll be marveling at virtually unhittable pitchers, towering home runs and stellar instances of acrobatic fielding, but I’ll be thinking of how one man, my friend, made a huge difference in turning churlish cruelty into an object lesson to elevate compassionate, gracious behavior. His skill, courage and high standard of ethics were every bit as special to me that evening as Shane Victorino’s absolutely marvelous grand slam.
How lucky we are to have victories to celebrate! How valuable it would be to our children and our society if those victories could regularly inspire all of us to be strong enough to stand up for graciousness, sportsmanship and civility. To show our kids how we bring out the best in one another. This would be a cultural grand slam worthy of the biggest jumbotron in Fenway Park.
This program aired on October 24, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.