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Don Owen: Yes, the sports world is on hiatus and we’re all worried, but here is a story of perspective

Everyone is frightened right now. All of us. While we wait out the pandemic and pray for the best, the ultimate escape from everyday worries in the United States — sports — is also on hiatus.

How many of you had today and Friday reserved for vacation? Given this would have been the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, probably a number of you were expecting to enjoy two whole days and evenings of the buzzer-beaters, blowouts and upsets that have made March Madness a worldwide sensation.

Not this year.

NKU earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament by winning the Horizon League title. March Madness was later canceled. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

No NBA. No MLB. No NHL. No college sports of any kind. We’re all in a fear-induced holding pattern. And we can’t turn to sports as an escape vehicle.

It could be a lot worse, though.

Many years ago, my dad spent several weeks on an island in the South Pacific while in the U. S. Army. It was a place called Iwo Jima. Dad was part of an American invasion force called Operation Detachment. The objective was to take the island from the Empire of Japan. It required five weeks of ferocious combat between the Imperial Japanese Army and American forces.

When the horrific struggle on Iwo Jima ended, the United States Marine Corps, the U.S. Army and the Navy had succeeded in the objective. But not without deadly consequences. Nearly 7,000 American soldiers were killed during the five-week assault. More than 18,000 Japanese soldiers were killed. That was in 1945.

Fast-forward about 30 years later. I was just a kid. Dad rarely spoke about Iwo Jima, but one evening he revealed some of what had gone on during the battle and the unthinkable conditions on that island. It wasn’t good. Though I was just a kid, I could tell that terrifying experience on Iwo Jima had forever impacted Dad’s life.

Now that I’m an adult, I wish I could tell Dad — who passed away in 1988 — how thankful I am for what he and all those who served in the military — past, present and future — do for this nation and our world.

So, since there is no NCAA Tournament to cover (Northern Kentucky University would have been playing either Florida State or Creighton if the experts are correct), I thought I’d pen a brief letter to Dad. What I’d say to him if he were still with us today. He was a big sports fan, too. But he knew sports were just that — a temporary escape from everyday stress.

Here it goes:

“Hey, Dad. Well, my dream matchup of NKU vs. San Diego State wasn’t going to happen if the experts were right. But it sounds like the Norse were going to face Florida State in the first round. Leonard Hamilton is the head coach at Florida State, by the way. He was Joe B. Hall’s assistant at UK years ago when you loved listening to Cawood Ledford call the games on radio.

I feel very bad for the players and coaches for every team in every NCAA and NAIA division. Then again, it’s only sports.

An American invasion force called Operation Detachment captured Iwo Jima during World War II.

I’ve spent the past week or so dreading the future. I lived through 9/11 and saw the ensuing chaos, but this is worse. Maybe it’s because our country — the one you served so courageously during World War II — seemed divided before this virus ever struck. You know what I mean. This is a ‘me-first’ society now. I’m guilty, too.

Plus, how can I possibly complain about the current situation when I’m aware of what you and many others endured in 1945 on that island in the South Pacific?

That’s when I stop dreading the future. All I need to do is re-examine the past. Adversity is everywhere in this wilderness we call life. You can’t hide from it. You can’t run from it. You have to confront it with a combination of toughness and compassion.

It doesn’t mean everything will turn out perfect, because it won’t. Not in this world. God made everything good in the beginning. Men ruined that. But the good news? God alone knows how all this will end, not panic-mongers on social media and television.

Remember when I was a kid and my favorite TV show was Ultraman? Every afternoon it showed on Channel 19? While most of my friends wanted to be like Johnny Bench or Pete Rose or Joe Morgan or Tony Perez, I secretly wished to be like Shin Hayata, a member of the fictional Japanese Science Patrol. He was the guy who used the beta capsule to become Ultraman and fight off all those monsters that were threatening the world.

Shin Hayata

Hayata was my hero, and I dreamed of the day I could join the Science Patrol. Ironically, you had fought against the Japanese years earlier at Iwo Jima. Thankfully, you held no grudge. You and Mom allowed me to watch Ultraman without any reservations. I didn’t even know Hayata was Japanese at the time. Nor would I have cared. I just thought we were all human beings on the same planet. Kids have strange dreams, right?

Anyway, I better get back to work. I’m sure I’ll speak to you again soon. I just hope somewhere on this planet, there’s a beta capsule and that a modern-day Ultraman will fight off this monster that is currently threatening the world.”

Godspeed to everyone.

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

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One Comment

  1. Homedika says:

    One of the things that is always said about really good athletes is that they make everyone around them better. When he played, Michael Jordan was a prime example of this. Jordan had a way to lift the level of his teammates’ play. He inspired them to be better. He motivated them. Be a really great athlete. Take some responsibility for raising the training level of your fellow athletes. Build their confidence up. Motivate them with your work level, dedication and commitment. In karate training this was one of the responsibilities we had as black belts. The better you are, the more responsibility you have to lift the training level of all those around you. This means that you must set aside your ego. In my book, being better, older or stronger does not mean anything more than you now have a job to try to take everyone on your squad up there with you. Not many athletes feel or act this way. Most act entitled and conceited. These athletes are the first to put you in your place and let you know who’s the best. Don’t get caught up in this tacky game. Be a class athlete. Be a true champion. Go out of your way to lift your teammates up, not knock them down.

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