Champion!

What is a champion?  How do we as a society define a champion and more importantly what do we expect from them once anointed?  Are champions more than highly successful athletes or are they something more? Should they be more?

Is the “Number 1” plate, or the Sprint Cup Trophy, or the Lombardi Trophy, the only thing that is important, “Just win baby, just win”?

A recent “A Football Life,” on the NFL Network focused on the life and career of former San Diego Charger running back and future NFL Hall of Fame member, LaDainian Tomlinson, a man that never played in the super bowl!  LT broke all kinds of NFL records, was the catalyst for bringing back a winning tradition to the Chargers, played in numerous playoff games, but always came up short.  Is he a champion?

SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 17:  Running back LaDaini...

(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

 

The documentary portrayed a childhood plagued with poverty, the challenges of a detached and broken father, the struggles just to play football, and the miracles that eventually propelled LT to the heights of NFL fame and success.  It told the story of his families struggles and how once he was successful, how he gave back to that family and to the community.  It covered the tragedy of his first child being still-born and how once they had a successful pregnancy how he demanded to be with his wife and new child instead of with the team.  This film painted a picture of a gifted man that is more than a Hall of Fame football player, he is a man of integrity, he is responsible and he loves God and his family – he is a real man, he is a champion in my mind!

Over my life of 66 years I’ve heard people ask, “What famous person or persons would you most like to spend some time with?” For many of those years I had identified two men, the late Paul Newman and Sir Paul McCartney.  My thinking was based on information presented to me through the media not anything I truly knew about them.  I knew that both had long marriages and I wanted to know how they accomplished that while being famous and living the lives of world-class entertainers.  With Paul Newman his love of auto racing , my life long passion, put him at the top of the list.

Then I learned who these men really are and I felt betrayed. Not by them, they were and are who they are, I was disappointed in myself for not learning more before I placed them on pedestals, before making them my heroes.  These men were and are successful in their respective fields but in my book they are not men I want my grandsons to look up to, they are not champions!

This brings me to this night before the Geico 500 at Talladega.

Mr. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the unfortunate events of the past two weeks have placed you in a difficult and stressful situation for this final race of the Contender Round.  As with Mr. Newman and Mr. McCartney I don’t know you, all I know is what I see on TV or hear on the radio.  I own that my opinion about you is based solely on what the media chooses to present.  That being said, what I see, what I hear from you directly and from others, is that you are an authentic, intelligent, caring, responsible man of integrity who also has been blessed with extraordinary talents in a race car. When I listen to your interviews, especially with Marty Smith of ESPN (Another man I admire from afar), I’m struck by the passion, authenticity, and vulnerability you display.  No politically correct responses, no canned answers, you appear to always be speaking the truth.  I truly enjoy listening to the “Dale Jr Download” on Dirty Mo Radio each week because you are so real and open.  I listen to your sister on her radio show, especially when you girlfriend Amy is on and I get the sense that you are a man that cares about people, especially family.

Thank you for being who you are and regardless of what happens at Talladega Sunday or the rest of the Chase this year, or the series next year, you are a CHAMPION!

You are a champion because I’m certain you will handle the events as they unfold with dignity and honesty.  But more importantly I consider you a champion because of who you are as a man, a man that one day, God willing, will raise a child of your own to be all that they can be.  A man that that child will look to and want to be like.  A child that will learn to tell the truth, own up to their mistakes, and to walk proudly in faith and authenticity.

Good luck and God bless you.

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