Coming off the practice field last week, Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz stopped to sign a jersey for an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair.
Pro athletes visit hospitals and support their favorite charities all the time. Detroit Lions Quarterback Matt Stafford recently called a 14-year-old double amputee onto the field during the team’s scrimmage, letting him take a snap and throw a perfect 6-yard touchdown pass. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin recently returned to his Hampton Roads, Virginia hometown to raise funds for a local youth sports program and just last year Houston Texans Defensive end JJ Watt raised more than $41 million for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
While nice stories, these tales rarely get to me anymore. I suspect I’ve read too many news reports about spoiled sports heroes getting caught using banned performance-enhancing substances or getting arrested late at night for assault or driving under the influence.
This story, though, was different.
Turning the grinch’s cold heart to a soft, pulpy mush
I’ve watched the video dozens of times and it gets to me every time. Wentz leans over to sign his autograph for Giovanni Hamilton, from Muncy, Pennsylvania, who suffers from a condition called Schwartz-Jampel syndrome, a type of dwarfism that has left him with skeletal abnormalities and severe muscle stiffness. Since birth, the youngster has had more than ten surgeries, ranging from hip construction to eye surgery.
Wentz hands the jersey to Hamilton and the boy chokes out “You’re my hero” and reaches up to give him a hug. The kid’s request is as natural as a little kid reaching up to give his mother a goodnight hug.
The story gets better. After his most recent surgery, Hamilton told his mom that he wanted to be brave just like Wentz, whose season ended early last year because of a back injury.
I watched the video again the other night and once again I was a blubbering idiot. Sure, I like Wentz and what he means for Philadelphia and, yes, I have kids of my own, but there I was again an emotional wreck.
I’m struggling to understand why I’ve taken such a personal interest in the story. In part, I think it’s because I inevitably think of my own kids reaching up to give me a good night hug. I would hug them tight and say: “Good night buddy, sweet dreams, I’ll be thinking of you.”
My kids have had their share of health issues, but nothing like Hamilton. I pray for him and thank God my kids are well on their way to making their dreams come true.
I watched the video one more time tonight and, of course, I’m a wreck again. Is someone cutting up an onion?
A heartfelt thank you to mom and dad
If only the Giovanni Hamilton story was the lone one to touch me. A few days later, I came across Kevin Mawae’s Football Hall of Fame speech.
Mawae, an outstanding center for 16 seasons for the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, and Tennessee Titans, was elected this past weekend into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and thanked his mother and father, David and Linda Mawae, for their support and the lessons they taught him over the years.
To his father who served 23 years in the U.S. Army including two tours in Vietnam, two more in Germany and one in Korea, Mawae said: “You never cut corners and you never looked unprepared. You taught me that if it’s worth doing, to do it right the first time, and don’t half-ass anything. You taught me to take responsibility for myself, don’t blame others, and if you aren’t going to do anything about it, then don’t complain about it. You taught me to never start the fight, but you taught me I’d better damn well finish it. You taught me the value of walking lightly and carrying a big stick.”
He went onto say that his father’s quiet example of strength and resilience taught him what it meant to be man. “Whether or not I ever stood on this stage, just know this, I’m proud to be your son.”
He spoke too of his mother’s toughness, teaching him respect and obedience and making him endlessly refold his clothes and make his bed until the jobs were done right. Most importantly, he talked about how both showed him the importance of putting family first.
You can’t be a father or mother and not be touched by Mawae’s speech. It’s what we all strive for: we strive to make a difference in our kids lives; we strive to help show them the way to being “good people.”
During his playing career, I never knew much about Mawae. I knew he was a bruiser and his teams usually ran the ball well, but that was it. I certainly never rooted for him, but after that speech and thank you, I’ll be a fan for life.
“People always ask me who were my greatest role models and who did I look up to the most growing up. It was never a hard answer,” Mawae said. “It was easy. It’s always been you.”
Yea, that line in Mawae’s speech has the same effect as Hamilton reaching up to Wentz requesting a hug: it brings me to my knees. Please excuse me while I go cry my eyes out, err, what I meant to say was: go slice some more onions.