I suppose there's nothing intrinsically wrong with tapping a professional athlete as your commencement speaker.
I mean, you wouldn't want to invite former boxer Mike Tyson, unless you were prepared to hear him threaten to eat the chancellor's grandchildren, but performance-enhancing drug allegations notwithstanding, Lance Armstrong's a defensible choice. He's won the Tour de France enough times so that commentators refer to the race as the Tour de Lance; he has survived and thrived following a bout with cancer that could have killed him; he's been energetic in supporting medical research efforts and making people aware of the disease. And he's called the people who suspect him of illegal training practices trolls...an insult more creative than most pro athletes manage.
Besides Tyson, committees choosing a commencement speaker should perhaps steer clear of Barry Bonds, who might not show up and certainly wouldn't sign programs, and golfer John Daly, who recently confessed that he'd gambled away fifty or sixty million dollars. That would make him a long shot as a future benefactor for his adoptive alma mater, which, I'm told, is always something the committees choosing commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients consider.
Did they tell you that, Lance?
Bill Lee, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, would make for an intriguing graduation day honored guest, though only if those in attendance had a taste for irony. Lee tells a story of how his college baseball coach once stopped the pitcher in mid-sentence on the mound as he tried to explain why he thought he'd intentionally walk a particular batter to tell Lee, "Son, don't think. You'll hurt the ball club."
Not, perhaps, the message with which you want to leave a collection of graduating scholars.
In part because I recently attended a free basketball clinic Swin Cash was running for children, if I were looking for a pro athlete to honor with an extra degree, it would be Ms. Cash. She played on championship teams at UConn, in the WNBA, and in the Olympics; she devotes lots of time to encouraging kids — especially little girl kids — to become strong, independent leaders; she's a savvy enough business person to head her own apparel company, and so far as I know, she's never called anybody — not even a reporter - a troll.
This program aired on May 11, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.