Sports figures who had grit

I hope that you are finding time to enjoy the big event of the winter here at the Library.  This month marks the “Big Read” and people all over town are being invited to read and discuss the same book.  This years book as you no doubt know is the classic western novel  True Grit, written by Charles Portis.   The young girl to avenge her fathers death, settles on a man with true grit.  In the unforgettable Rooster Cogburn, the author has created a character who truly was a man of True Grit.

As I came up with this idea for a sports blog my mind drifted to people from the sports world who by their actions were also people who had True Grit.

Anyone of these people I list here  showed the world what courage meant by the way they went about their jobs.  They showed that often times sports is much more than just a game.  Sometimes it serves to incite others, and if truly great the event serves to unite people.  In short they were men and women of True Grit.  In my mind these people were able to maintain determination in spite of long odds.  Displaying their passion for the task at hand and keep at it till they reach a goal.

So here is True Grit sports style.

Jessie Owens performance in the 1936 Olympics.  Owens a son of a sharecropper and the grandson of a slave won 4 gold medals at the Berlin Olympics.  The competition was supposed to affirm in Adolph Hitlers mind that the Aryan Race was superior.  Owens performance embarrassed Hitler on his own turf.  Discrediting his claim of a master race.  Ultimately Owens showed that it was the individual rather than ones race or national origin that distinguishes a man or woman from another.

Lou Gerhig on July 4, 1939, Gerhig stood in front of 42,000 baseball fans and acknowledged that he was dying.  The man nicknamed the Iron Horse and who had played in 2,130 straight games could barely stand up.  Fighting back his tears he told the crowd that today he felt like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.  Gerhig died in 1941.

Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier and become this first black to play major league baseball.  On the day he signed his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers he was told by Branch Rickey that “he wanted a  man who had the courage not to fight back”.  Jackie’s story has been often told and sometimes it is hard to separate the truth from the legend.  Jackie and his wife Rachel challenged the artificial barriers that society placed before them               .

Muhammed Ali.    During his career you could not help but have an opinion about him.  Ali brashly called himself the Greatest, even before he really was.  During the divisive and tumultuous 1960’s Ali stance against the war in Vietnam and refusal to serve in the armed forces cost him his boxing titles.  Citing his religious beliefs, he refused to register for the draft.  As a result Ali was banned from boxing for several years.  He later regained his stature as an athlete and fought and regained his titles.  But it was his courage to stand firm in his beliefs that transcended sports showing his True Grit.  Ali remains a man of courage throughout the world as he battles with Parkinson Disease.

Billie Jean King, woman tennis star.  Billie Jean King won countless tournaments including a then record 12 Major  Championships.   Even if you dismiss her record as a fierce competitor in womens tennis, King stands as one of the most important people of the 20th century.  Her staged for television Battle of the Sexes match with Bobby Riggs put her in the spotlight as a person of substance.   King used her status as a elite athelete to become a spokesperson for womans rights.  Then continued on to be a powerful advocate for the rights of gay and lesbians.  She has been honored many times, and was chosen to represent our nation at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

No doubt a person could come up with dozens of other courageous people from all walks of life who displayed the qualities Charles Portis embodied in Rooster Cogburn.  Certainly not just from the world of sports, but I consider these athletes as people who possessed what young Mattie was looking for when she sought to find a person of True Grit.