The sports and athletes we’re thankful for…

The sports and athletes we’re thankful for…

Thinking about the things in sports this year that make it all worthwhile

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It’s that time of year where most of us prepare to eat ourselves into a stupor over the next few days, kick back, watch football and enjoy friends and family. More importantly, it’s the time where we give thanks for the things we’re thankful for in life.

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Stadiums full of fans

Stadiums full of fans

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When it comes to sports, I’m here for all of it and grateful for everything in the sports world. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Well, the ugly on the field, not the off-the-field/court ugliness that we sometimes see, unfortunately. But I’m just happy to have the good teams, the cellar dweller teams, and everything in between.

I’m thankful for having fans back in stadiums and arenas in 2021. Just getting sports back in general last year after a few months with none was awesome. But once we were able to get fans and media back in stadiums, it just felt right. So, I’m thankful for all of it. It hasn’t been the smoothest since we’re still dealing with a pandemic, but at least we’re back out there and have sports back at full bore for the 2021 holiday season. As a sports fan, it doesn’t get much better than that. — Criss Partee

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Derek Carr

Derek Carr

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It’s so easy to take sides when something terrible happens. Especially in this 2021 world that becomes increasingly polarized by the day. On one hand we are ready to throw away any person who does wrong. Sometimes it’s despicable, sometimes it’s an unfortunate mistake, sometimes it’s sheer ignorance. It doesn’t matter the reason, it’s time to take sides and those usually line up with people’s personal beliefs. The people who share the beliefs of the person who did wrong, will defend them like their own body in the Roman Coliseum. They’ll bend and twist all the logic possible and be willing to offer Kyle Rittenhouse an internship.

Then there’s those who are far too quick to condemn. If they do not share the beliefs of the person who did wrong then off to the gulag with them. There is no room for mercy or nuance. We should hate Michael Vick forever, even though he has suffered more, and atoned publicly more for the error of his ways more than most of us will ever be required to.

For the world to actually be a better place than the charnel house that it often is, the side we all should be rushing to is the side of decency. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “Treat people the way that you would want to be treated,” these aren’t simply platitudes that we feed preschoolers. These are principles that guide the way that decent people live their lives. No one has ever been “cancelled” for showing sincere compassion and empathy.

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was thrust into the middle of two situations involving people who committed great wrongs. Instead of castigating them or throwing out whataboutisms to defend them, he chose love.

When Jon Gruden’s racist, mysogonistic, and homophobic emails became public and he was forced to resign, Carr said to the media that the emails were offensive and that language will never be spoken by his own children. He also said that he loves his former coach. They’ve battled together, his coach has always had his back, and the love grew past football. It extended his coach’s family. All of that, Carr said, was going to make it hard with Gruden not being with the team.

Less than a month later, Carr’s No. 1 wide receiver, Henry Ruggs III, committed a horrific act. He was driving on a Las Vegas street, not an expressway, at 156 miles per hour and a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, and killed a woman. Ruggs hit her car so hard that it engulfed in flames.

That’s it for Ruggs as an NFL player, and as a free man for some years. Once he sobered up in that jail cell and realized that he ended a person’s life and, at least for a time, ruined his own, in the words of Carr, “He’s probably feeling a certain type of way about himself.” Carr also said that Ruggs needs to be loved right now and he is willing to do it.

Carr can be called more than a quarterback, a true captain, or even a great leader for both of these public moments. What he really has been in these moments is a role model, not just for children but maybe even more so for adults. He sorted out some complicated feelings and relationships, and chose the side of empathy. Gruden and Ruggs showed the ugliness of humanity like a slomo, HD replay of a play on Sunday that is under review. Their actions should never be defended in any way, but that doesn’t mean the people should be thrown away. The way to make a better society is for people to improve themselves after they do something wrong, not for them to simply suffer in a dark corner and the good parts of them will never be seen again. In order to get any good from these people again, they first need to be loved.

Carr has chosen love, and in the process has given us an example of what it looks like to be a decent human being. A person who instead of piling on or blindly defending an ideology, decided to care about two entirely different people. As this world spirals into cultural and environmental chaos, this is an example that we should all try to follow. — Stephen Knox

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College football and rivalry week

College football and rivalry week

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This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for rivalry week.

I cover college football every Saturday, and before I covered it, I watched college football every Saturday in a near-religious fashion (ironically, often taking my only break of the day to attend 5 p.m. Mass). I try not to wax too poetic about it too often, especially when I’m covering the games, but the holidays have me in a waxing sort of mood. Even though my own colleagues find people like me weird for loving college ball this much, and even though I’m willing to admit the multitudes of issues that accompany NCAA athletics, there’s just something about Saturdays in fall that make me deliriously happy, whether I’m freezing my ass off in a midwestern stadium or curled up on a couch somewhere with three-plus screens in front of me.

After spending all of Thursday and Friday in a food coma having done absolutely no work, I get to wake up on Saturday with the promise of delicious leftovers and twelve hours of fantastic football ahead of me. See, the reason I’m thankful for rivalry week is because it would be so easy to cop out by scheduling a guaranteed win. And some do! Georgia will play Georgia Tech, Cincy will face East Carolina. I’m certainly not one to judge that decision, particularly with conference championships and the high stakes that accompany them only one week ahead. But even with winning records on the line, I’m thankful for the teams that top Thanksgiving weekend off with memorable games.

Rivalry week is college football in its purest form — it’s funny and unpredictable and full of risks, it’s on all at once and it’s high-stakes and it’s a genuine delight to watch. In the past decade alone, we’ve gotten Ole Piss, the Kick Six, the 7-OT LSU-TAMU, and that’s just off the top of my head. So yeah, I’m thankful for Auburn and their weird ability to dig deep against Alabama when they haven’t all season. I’m thankful for the defensive mess that is the Big 12 and their hilariously entertaining fourth quarters. I’m even thankful for Ohio State and Michigan, even though when Michigan inevitably loses every year, my family members who went there are depressed for the rest of the afternoon.

So here I am, going on and on before any of the games have even been played. Maybe this is a jinx and it’ll be a dreadfully boring slate this year. But it’s rivalry week, so I doubt it. — Grace McDermott

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D’Ernst Johnson Thanksgiving thing

D’Ernst Johnson Thanksgiving thing

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We all love whenwen we can relate to athletes. It’s why people adore Steph Curry. He’s somewhat our size. D’Ernst Johnson, a backup running back for the Cleveland Browns, also is somewhat our size, but there’s no illusion that a rando off the street could play running back in an NFL game and leave the field any way other than a stretcher.

What was relatable about Johnson wasn’t his 22 carry, 146 yard and a score performance against Denver in week 7 filling in for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but rather his reaction to getting a shoutout from LeBron James for that performance.

That’s marvelous. The way he says “LeBron?” his teammate saying “That’s big time,” or just his sheepish smile at finding out his favorite basketball player acknowledged his great game are something we hope we can relate to.

It may not be an athlete, but many of us have that person who would make us blush if they praised our work. If Anthony Bourdain (RIP) could give me an atta boy on Twitter, I’d frame that shit.

I don’t know if Johnson would go that far, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did.

— Sean Beckwith

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