Time Out: June 20, 2012

“Positive anything is better than negative nothing,” said Elbert Hubbard, the American writer and publisher.

The sports pages are cluttered with ‘negative nothings’ these days. The Roger Clemens perjury trial is finally over, replaced by the deadly daily drumbeat of the Sandusky sexual abuse trial. More doping allegations directed at Lance Armstrong promise a lengthy, numbing vetting and legal proceedings. Coupled with the unrealistic, out-of-whack salaries of professional athletes, never-ending labor disputes, and reports of boorish public behavior by various sport celebrities, the daily pabulum of negativity might leave the average sports enthusiast wondering, “Where are the good guys in sport?”

That was the question Myron Finkbeiner asked two decades ago when he formulated the idea of a World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. Bet you’ve never heard of that hall of fame have you? That was exactly Finkbeiner’s point.

Not much support
Friends and associates of Finkbeiner’s scoffed at his idea. They believed we live in a society fascinated with bad behavior. They told Finkbeiner there simply wouldn’t be interest in something like a World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.

Finkbeiner was unsinkable. The former college basketball coach and current author believed in what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature.’ Finkbeiner feels athletics provides an outlet coaches can use to develop character. “If my players were not better people at the end of the year from when we started, I felt I hadn’t done a good job,” notes Finbeiner.

Step-by-step, with little fanfare, Finkbeiner labored and in 1994 he had his first class of the World Sport Humanitarian Hall of Fame. Tennis great Arthur Ashe, golf legend Chi Chi Rodriquiz and Olympic Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson were the first inductees. Every year since, three new amateur or professional athletes, who through their humanitarian efforts have distinguished themselves as role models in their communities, are inducted. A national selection committee of well-known media and sports figures chooses the world-class athletes for the impact of the humanitarian work they do, the strength of their foundations and in the unique nature of their community service.
The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame resides in Boise, IA, alongside the blue turf of Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium. A new site for the hall of fame is included in Boise State renovation plans for their athletic facilities.

Pro hooper’s visit
As he escorted a group of fifth-grade students through the hall, Finkbeiner stopped at the display for basketball great David Robinson.

“How many of you heard that several years ago, David Robinson visited some 5th-grade classrooms just like yours?” he asked the children.

Finkbeiner informed the kids that Robinson told those 5th graders if they stayed off drugs, stayed off tobacco, stayed off alcohol and maintained a C+ average he would see that each one got into a college of their choice, and he would give each successful youngster a scholarship to attend that college.

“Years later,” Finkbeiner went on, “David Robinson was back at that school presenting scholarships to 72 high school seniors.”

A different message
It’s Finkbeiner’s intention to alter the messages young people receive. The unshakable, forever positive Finkbeiner knows athletes do good deeds that have a positive impact on their communities all the time. The problem is those deeds get lost in the swirl of reports of the negative behavior of select athletes. “We need to examine what we’re teaching our kids about how you become significant in our society,” Finkbeiner warns.

At the Margaretville Athletic banquet last week we were reminded those efforts start closest to home when Athletic Director Jeremey Marks lauded the student athletes who put their fall sports season temporarily on hold and did their part in assisting with the local cleanup after the flood. MCS, and most local schools, are important players in the Cancer Society’s annual fund-raising efforts during the winter sports season.