Sports and Society
Rotary clubs everywhere are filled with men and women who take action to do good things. Polio, for example, has almost been eradicated because of Rotary International. Rotary meetings are also forums for community leaders, and places where citizens with interesting projects can tell Rotarians, and through them the wider community, about what they are doing.
I was impressed recently when two basketball coaches from the University of Toledo were guests at the downtown Toledo Rotary. Tricia Cullop and Tod Kowalczyk are managing programs for a university that wants to be Hertz in the
sports world but, to put it charitably, has to struggle to be as good as Avis, even though these days the Avis group is no longer even the No. 2 car rental company.
Their programs seem more like the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) programs of the late 1940’s, with teams like the Phillips 66’ers, Chicago Americans, or the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons.
The world in which college players were truly amateurs has vanished almost as completely as the world of rabbit-ear TV antennas. UT’s Tod and Tricia are dodging and weaving through the weeds of the transfer portal, players being paid for endorsements, with the authorities standing somewhere in the corner doing their best to make sure these programs are both successful and run on a high ethical standard. That’s not an easy job; in addition to trying to recruit the best high school potentials, they are constantly searching among transfer students to see if they can find just the right point guard, or near court forward.
Neither has yet found a player like Wilt Chamberlain, my fellow University of Kansas alum. But I have to say that I was impressed with them and their programs; both have taken their situations as they found them and made them winners. Overall, though, I am even more in awe of Brian Morehead and his women’s basketball program at Hope College. Over the past few years, they’ve gone 64-1, and this year won the women’s Division 3 championship.
Those students have no illusions about the future; Morehead’s young women get their degrees and go on to graduate school or become health care professionals.
But Tricia’s kids, and Tod’s, often try to make the pro game, and a few succeed, if they are lucky. Many, but not all, manage to graduate, and then get good jobs, again, if they are lucky. Basketball can be a first step in life’s opportunities and Tricia and Tod are seeing to it that their players get a chance.
I have also been impressed with two other sports people recently: Steve Kerr, coach of basketball’s Golden State Warriors, and Gabe Kapler, manager of baseball’s San Francisco Giants. Kapler said after the fatal shootings of 19 students and two adults in Texas that he wasn’t coming out of the dugout to sing the National Anthem again till he feels “better about the direction of our country.”
“We elect our politicians to represent our interests,” he said. “But we saw no bravery among our politicians. These guys are so beholden to the gun companies because they want … to occupy positions of power in government. They’d prefer sending our kids to school with bulletproof backpacks, and a place where they have more active shooter drills than childhood freedoms.”
But the most impassioned plea came from Kerr, whose Warriors were in Dallas for the playoffs when the Uvalde murders happened. Kerr blew his stack and with very good reason. “I’m tired.” he bellowed,, “tired of offering condolences to devastated families - tired of prayers, tired of moments of silence.
Enough is enough.”
“There are no profiles in courage in the current senate,” he said. “What there are is a bunch of the power-hungry gutless willing to put the lives of children, church goers, and elderly shoppers in Buffalo, in second place while they blabber nothings so as to not offend potential political donors. Get busy protecting American politicians, or find another job.”
I remembered then that Steve Kerr was the son of Malcolm Kerr, a Middle Eastern scholar and president of the American University of Beirut. The elder Kerr was shot in the back of the head by two gunmen outside his office in early 1984, His son was just 18 when his father was assassinated. I never knew either man, but I have a strong connection with the American University of Beirut. I have former students teaching chemistry there, and the chair of the department of natural sciences at the Lebanese American University also took her Ph. D. with me at Bowling Green State University’s Center for the Photochemical Sciences.
My former students and those two major professional sports leaders have all
showed far more guts than the vast majority of those in the U.S. Senate. And I
haven’t even started to get to the members of the House!
Many of those in professional and collegiate sports in America have more sense than our national politicians. Perhaps it’s time for a major housecleaning in Washington bringing the point guards that made it, and the centerfielders deemed smartest in baseball.
We need to replace those who make careers for themselves by jerking the people around on behalf of special interests. We need more decent, successful Americans in government in order to save this country. Those who have to run sports teams have to be leaders by nature. And so are, I have to say, chemists.
Show me a world leader who has made more of a positive impact on the world than my fellow physical chemist Angela Merkel of Germany.
We’ve been trying the same old politicians and formulas far too long. You
don’t have to be a scientist to know that when an experiment repeatedly fails, it’s
time to try something else. For Washington the operative word is ‘flush’. In Ohio,
we should tell most politicians say ‘Goodby Columbus.’
Douglas Neckers is also an organic chemist, McMasters Distinguished Professor emeritus and the founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University.