The Olympics: Character, Courage, Competition

August 9, 2016 9:03 pm Last Updated: August 10, 2016 9:21 am

The Olympic games is the stage for the world’s greatest athletes to courageously perform at the most intense level of competition.

Currently, thousands of athletes from across the globe are competing in the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This year, the Olympics will also allow athletes to compete as Independent Athletes under the Olympic Flag due to various reasons, including the European migrant crisis.

Previously, these athletes were ineligible for competition due to their inability to represent their countries.

There is an ethical code required for all Olympic athletes and those involved with them, demanding that all participate with character, sportsmanship, and honesty.

Sports: A Call for Character

From the time that I was a young boy in the Bronx, sports have always been a part of my life. I played Little League baseball, stickball, basketball in the public school yards, ran cross country track for Mount Saint Michael High School, golfed at Van Cortland and Moshulu golf courses, and wrestled for John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

During my years as an educator, I was privileged to coach a state championship soccer team and also served as a lifeguard, swimming coach, and lifeguard instructor.

Hackensack Little League 1998 team coached by author Vincent J. Bove (top row on right). Bove's son Austin is on the bottom right. (Courtesy of Vincent J. Bove Publishing)
Hackensack Little League 1998 team coached by author Vincent J. Bove (top row on right). Bove’s son Austin is on the bottom right. (Courtesy of Vincent J. Bove Publishing)

One of my greatest thrills was coaching my son’s little league baseball team for 7 years. The years of coaching his team provided some of my fondest memories.

The importance of sports in the development of the child makes the crisis of character in professional sports even more reprehensible. Like it or not, athletes are role models for our youth and must strive to be examples of character.

Major League Baseball: Lessons for Athletes

The Major League Baseball (MLB) scandal has lessons for the Olympics, and for all who enjoy sports.

Since baseball has always been my favorite sport, I would like to use lessons from it for all athletes.

As a child, love for the game was expressed through card collecting, knowing the lineup of one’s favorite team by heart, and articulating it with each batter at every whiffle ball, stickball, or Little League game.

Vincent J. Bove with Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent prior to a game on April 19, 1982. Dent was MLB All-Star and 1978 World Series MVP. (Courtesy of Vincent J. Bove Publishing/Credit: Nick Ciranni)
Vincent J. Bove with Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent prior to a game on April 19, 1982. Dent was MLB All-Star and 1978 World Series MVP. (Courtesy of Vincent J. Bove Publishing/Credit: Nick Ciranni)

Baseball became significantly serious to me after the tragic death of Yankee catcher Thurman Munson.

Soon thereafter, I found myself involved with MLB on a much more profound level as a confidant to the New York Yankee baseball players, and to many players throughout the league.

During one summer in particular, I was working at a camp at St. Thomas the Apostle Church on 118th Street in Harlem as a youth counselor. In the evening, I took the subway to Yankee Stadium to work with the players as well as to collaborate on my first book, “On the Eighth Day God Created the Yankees.”

The experience with inner city kids during the day and with the great names of baseball in the evening, gave me an unforgettable perspective, as I was working with the very poor and the very rich all in the course of the same day.

The lesson from this experience remains with me to this day: money does not define the person. It is character–a good heart, appreciating life, fostering good will toward others–that is important in life.

Yankee pinstripes did not determine a person’s greatness, but the stripes of thoughtfulness, respect, civility, truthfulness, kindness, and charity toward others. This is what is important in the game of life. Many Yankees learned that lesson in the summer of 1979 after the death of their beloved captain.

Because of this unique experience, I was particularly disappointed with the MLB steroid scandal. Weak steroid policies were destructive of the integrity of the game, and too many officials ignored the crisis until public outcry forced their hand.

The House Government Reform Committee held a Congressional hearing on March 17, 2005 entitled “Restoring Faith in America’s Pastime: Evaluating MLB’s Efforts to Eradicate Steroid Use” to highlight the Major League Baseball steroid scandal.

I remember listening to the testimony of some of the great contemporary players and thinking that it was an embarrassment to the national pastime. The testimonies lacked veracity, and they served as a warning sign depicting so clearly the lack of character in many professional athletes.

These players were given so much by the great game of baseball, and they could not stand at the plate wearing the uniform of character at this congressional hearing. They could have shined so brightly before the nation by courageously speaking the truth.

It was particularly ironic to me that two of the players called to testify, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, were highly instrumental in restoring MLB’s popularity when they battled for the home run crown in 1998 while chasing Roger Maris’ record of 61 homers in a season.

McGwire, who hit 70 home runs during that record-breaking season, refused to answer questions on whether he took steroids. If only McGwire understood that truthfulness and integrity would have a greater impact on the nation than his home run record.

MLB and American society must learn that the power of truth travels much deeper into the character of the nation than any home run ball into the upper-deck of any stadium. The destructiveness of a lie will live longer than Bobby Thompson’s shot heard round the world, and the ramifications of the truth will remain radiant longer than the shine on any World Series ring.

Aside from MLB, the brilliance of character will also shine much brighter than any Olympic gold medal.

Sooner or later, each and every one of us, regardless of our state in life, will have the opportunity to allow character to shine brightly in our lives.

Final Reflections

As we enjoy the competition of the XXXI Olympiad, we are reminded that character at the games, in all sports, and particularly with our youth programs, must always be emphasized.

America, and all the nations of the world, will be on the path to reawakening our societies, when character is paramount in athletic competition, and with all the responsibilities of civic life.

Vincent J. Bove
Vincent J. Bove

Vincent J. Bove, CPP, is a national speaker and author on issues critical to America. Bove is a recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award for combating crime and violence and is a former confidant of the New York Yankees. His newest book is “Listen To Their Cries.” For more information, see www.vincentbove.com

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"Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times."