Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘ESPN

Thoughts After Watching”The Life of Donnovan Hill”

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As most of you who read my blog know, I am a regular watcher of ESPN’s Outside the Lines program (henceforth shortened to OTL). Recently, OTL featured a story about a young man, Donnovan Hill, who’d become paralyzed as a result of being incorrectly taught how to tackle by a Pop Warner football coach. Donnovan Hill went from an active, athletic, and energetic young teen to a quadriplegic, and no one took responsibility.

Granted, some might see what happened to Donnovan Hill as “an act of God.” Many others on his team were also taught this inaccurate technique, and they did not become injured (much less paralyzed for life).

But what I saw–and what I internalized–was a young man who’d loved to play football, and had been bright, gifted, and doing everything he wanted to do.

Then, one day, it was all gone.

His friends mostly melted away, being unable to conceive of Donnovan’s life as a paraplegic (much less deal with it). His coaches tried to help, at least until they realized Donnovan’s mother was going to sue them; then, they also faded away.

So it was just Donnovan and his mother, living a life without any sort of help for either. Donnovan could not brush his teeth, and had to work very hard to regain enough feeling in one hand so he could put on his own pair of glasses. While his mother had to do everything for him — feed him, get him to the toilet, brush his teeth, carry him to and from the car (as they didn’t have a motorized wheelchair or handicapped accessible van, this was a huge problem for both).

It was obvious that both were heartsick, exhausted, and extremely unhappy with what had become of Donnovan’s life. But there were compensations.

First, the bond between Donnovan and his mother was extremely close. The love was palpable in the story between them, even though no words were spoken.

Second, Donnovan turned to poetry and music to express his inner thoughts and feelings. And he had a gift…one that, had he lived longer, might’ve brought him fame of another sort…the sort a young man wants to have, that of accomplishment against the odds.

Third, after the original OTL story aired, many people stepped forward with offers of help. Two handicap-accessible vans were donated. A better, disabled-friendly apartment was offered. A motorized wheelchair was given to Donnovan…so life got better for them both, due to them being willing to discuss publicly what had happened to him after getting hurt so badly.

And finally, former Pro Bowl OT Kyle Turley reached out to Donnovan as well. The two became friends, and that friendship had worth and value.

Donnovan Hill died at age 18, just after his mother had settled the lawsuit with the Pop Warner organization. Kyle Turley sang a song he and Donnovan had written together, using one of Donnovan’s poems…the church was full, and at least one of Donnovan’s former coaches did attend the service.

So, after watching “The Life of Donnovan Hill,” I am left with a deep and overarching sadness. This was a young man with great potential and a gift for poetry that was truly inspirational. I wish he’d lived longer…but the fact he lived, and kept trying so hard after being paralyzed in a Pop Warner football game, was meaningful.

ESPN Anchor and Personality Stuart Scott Dies at 49

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It’s been widely reported today that ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor and personality Stuart Scott has died at 49 after a seven-year battle with stomach cancer. And the news hit me hard, even though I knew as a long-time viewer of ESPN that Scott wasn’t doing particularly well.

For those who don’t follow sports as I do, Scott was a new kind of anchor when he first took to ESPN in 1993. He came up with numerous catchphrases like “Booyah!” and “He’s as cool as the other side of the pillow.” And while he wasn’t the first well-known African-American sports anchor in the Western world, Scott often seemed like the coolest, getting athletes like the intensely private Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods to actually reveal a little of who they were without getting them upset in the process (a very neat trick indeed).

Basically, Scott was the type of guy other men wanted to be like. He had class, he was smart, he understood sports, he spoke and dressed well, and he related to everyone.

In other words, Scott was a very good person. It came across in how he spoke to people. He didn’t see Jordan and Woods as wealthy, privileged athletes so much but as people who’d had to struggle to get where they were — people who were still vulnerable, who still wanted others to know that their money didn’t define them — and that changed sports journalism.

I know that’s a very big statement to make, so let me unpack it a little.

First, the explosion of salaries at the major league level in the 1980s and beyond for major league baseball, the NFL and the NBA all tended to make the average viewer feel like he or she had no frame of reference for the players anymore, save on the field. This wasn’t as much of a problem for the players in the 1950s, 1960s, and even the 1970s because while the best made very good money, most of the rest still had to drive garbage trucks in the offseason. (Or whatever they did instead of driving garbage trucks.)

In other words, while Scott celebrated the amazing feats of athleticism that sports can and do provide, Scott also provided a deeper human element to help balance it out.

So while others may speak of Scott’s hipness, freshness, and ability to relate to the younger set — and while that is certainly all true — I think most are missing the point.

Scott was, first and foremost, a caring human being, as this story discussed within ESPN’s lengthy obituary for him illustrates in full measure:

“NBA Countdown” anchor Sage Steele remembers the day last year when her family moved from Connecticut to Arizona to be closer to her show in Los Angeles: “The moving trucks were at my house, and Stuart was there with his girlfriend Kristin to say goodbye to us, and my 10-year-old son Nicholas had to say goodbye to his best friend across the street, and he came back sobbing, sobbing, leaving his best friend in the world. … Stuart said, ‘I got it.’ And he took Nicholas aside and just sat down with him and described his moving away as a kid, losing his best friend as a 10-year-old boy and how he handled it. He spent 20 minutes sitting there with Nicholas, helping him feel better.

“Stuart spent three hours at our house that day, in pain and hardly able to stand, but he did it. And he sat there for my kid.”

Not everyone does that. Most particularly when he’s gravely ill, weak, and in pain.

Yes, Stuart Scott loved sports. Loved them with a passion. But he also loved life itself — and somehow that showed through during every sportscast he ever did.

May his loved ones be comforted by his memory.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 4, 2015 at 5:08 pm