There’s a front-page story in the Tampa Bay Times today that is one of those human interest stories that, frankly, I rarely read. I’m too busy (I tell myself) with the serious news to bother with some fluffy feel-good piece.
But maybe it was the fact
that it was about college student-athletes from Florida Southern and Eckerd Colleges, schools close by and familiar to me. Perhaps the image of the obviously injured young woman athlete reminded me of a daughter’s injury, many years ago, on a college sports field.
Whatever the reason, I read.
I read about Eckerd College sophomore softball player Kara Oberer, about her rough season and her indomitable spirit. I read how she was injured yet again in the game on Saturday, this time so badly that she couldn’t even walk very well. Her right knee had failed her.
I read how, in the top of the 7th, down 2 to 1, with two outs and runners on, Kara was brought back into the game to try to drive a run home. Joey Knight from the Times reports that her coach had given her a simple instruction: “If you make contact, just try to get to first base, no farther.”
Meanwhile, on the mound for Florida Southern was senior Chelsea Oglevie, pitching her last collegiate game. She’d held Eckerd to seven hits and only one run in six innings. In the seventh, she walked two, but had held the tying run on base.
Ms. Oglevie and Ms. Oberer battled to a 2-2 count. Then Ms. Oberer connected . . . and knocked the ball out of the park.
By the time Ms. Oberer got to first base (“no farther,” the coach had said) she was in such pain that she was hopping on her left foot the last several feet. The pain in her right knee had crossed threshold from grimace-making to tear-demanding. No farther, indeed.
Except . . . she did go farther.
Ms. Oglevie, whose win had been taken away by Ms. Oberer’s homer, walked over to first, where she was joined by her teammate Leah Pemberton from second. (According to ESPN reporter Graham Hayes, Ms. Pemberton once suffered a broken leg when Ms. Oberer took her out at second.) They picked up Ms. Oberer and carried her the rest of the way around the bases, only allowing her foot to come down at each base long enough to make her flight along the base paths legit.
I’m guessing there wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium by the time they made it home.
Great story about sport and character, about competition and respect for one’s competitors. Phenomenal, really. The home run hitter carried by the pitcher who lost the game to that homer and a second basewoman whose leg once had been broken by the hitter.
We admire such character, don’t we? Not just in young women, or in athletes, right? This is a gender-neutral, ageless demonstration of character. We fight hard, giving our all to our cause. At the same time, we honor those who give their all to the other side . . . even when they beat us.
All of this seems relevant as I watch the unfolding 2014 campaign season. It’s another competitive game with very high stakes, of course. Everybody plays to win. Most play by the rules, but many also know that the rules aren’t always crystal clear and one can, on occasion, gain an advantage by “gaming” the ref or bending the rules. And so, many do.
If one were to summarize and believe the messages of all of the negative ads already out there, plus the ones yet to come, one would conclude that every office holder and every candidate for office is working to do harm to the general public on behalf of shadowy self-serving interest groups or powerful people. The only choice, in the end, is which particular conspiratorial interests one dislikes the least.
But can we manage to remember, as candidates, as campaign workers, as voters and as observers, that most, if not all, of these same folks are basically decent human beings? Most of them aren’t better than the rest of us, to be sure, but most of them aren’t worse, either.
Their pursuit of particular political and policy goals typically isn’t inspired by pure evil. It may be inspired by selfish interests, or a misunderstanding of the facts, or even a peculiar prejudice about certain issues or a unique view of the world. We may disagree with them passionately.
In the end, however, they’re just human beings in a very public and very demanding profession. They aren’t “the enemy” . . . and they certainly aren’t (or shouldn’t be) targets for annihilation, physically or emotionally.
We can play the game of politics with great passion and still retain compassion for our adversaries. If we do that, we just might make it home.