Long ago, I wrote a column about vomit and education. No, I didn’t suggest that teachers should encourage vomiting or that education gets better amid the smell of vomit. Sorry to those of you who are gagging even at these words.
No, for those without an encyclopedic knowledge of my columns — OK, all of you — I wrote that my son, who was only 5 at the time, often came home with exactly the same answer to the question about what happened in school: “Nothing.” Then, one day, a classmate was in the middle of saying something when she vomited.
Suddenly, my son became the bard of vomit, describing in technicolor detail everything that poured out of his classmate’s mouth. It didn’t stop there. He recounted each of the steps the teacher took to clean it up and resettle the room and then, to my shock, he shared a few things about the next lessons she tried to teach.
While I’m not suggesting the value of vomit in the classroom, I did recognize something unusual that occurs during these high-energy moments: People pay more attention.
What triggered — bad word choice here, I know — my thinking about this observation is March Madness. The NCAA basketball tournament has 64 teams entering this bracket, all of whom have fans, family and friends hoping their journey can go just one more game all the way to the championship.
Now, these games can be — and often are — ridiculously exciting, with young players pushing themselves to the limits of their speed, endurance and coordination to make impossible game-winning shots that carry their fans to the next level of ecstasy.
The winners stand in front of a microphone at the end of the game and recount what we’ve just witnessed, taking us through the moment when they got the ball at the top of the key, faked left, passed it to a teammate, and then crashed the boards just in time to grab the rebound and slam home the game-winner.
We know what we saw and rarely, if ever, do these interviews produce much more than, “Yeah, it was great,” or “I’m so excited, I just don’t have words for this.”
So, this is where the vomit analogy comes in. Some of these players likely contribute to causes, believe in community service, have something to say about what they’ve overcome, can share the best advice they’ve ever gotten or remember a moment that still matters.
I realize it’s asking a lot of the reporters and the athletic superstar whose primary concern may be going to the bathroom, getting his uniform clean for the next game or getting to the bus on time to go to the airport.
Still, these moments, with the players, coaches and even fans could include some kind of life lesson. Players don’t need to preach, nor do they have to demand that we participate in their favorite charity. However, they can use the spotlight to inspire and encourage us with their incredible achievements off the field, their commitments to family or their contributions to a church group.
Now, I realize Olympic coverage often includes features about people who are dedicating their efforts to a relative or who volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. And, I appreciate how sports purists may find the effort an intrusion in the cliché-riddled wide world of sports, where the players are just happy to help the team and they take everything one game at a time and they try not to do too much.
But some day, that athlete will no longer have the microphone and some day, the world will no longer be watching. While we’re inspired and moved by their magnificence on the court, how about if, to the extent possible, they also encourage us to follow their lead in other arenas. An energized audience may see this as a chance to turn a good game into a great achievement.