19 May 2008

A "Professional" Athlete

For what seems likes the past year or so, sports enthusiasts have been inundated with newspaper headlines, SportsCenter intros and talk radio lead-ins detailing the latest athlete arrest or indictment. Domestic violence incidences, drug/alcohol abuse and illegal supplement intake are just a few examples of the transgressions perpetrated by a cast of professional athletes. In the age of video and Internet, a number of athletes and coaches (yes, you Tony La Russa)have even had videos of their interactions with police posted to the Web, for all to peruse.

Yet, tucked away in the dark recesses of May 11, 2008 New York Times Sports section was an article about the Lakers big-man, Pau Gasol. The article began:

"Pau Gasol, the Lakers center, was explaining the other day why he is highly motivated to finish off the Utah Jazz in the second round of the N.B.A. playoffs. 'I’m supposed to go to the opera next week,' he said.

Gasol was invited to a performance of Tosca by a fellow Spaniard, Plácido Domingo, the general director of the Los Angeles Opera. He has never met Domingo nor been introduced to
opera.

'I’m looking forward to it,' said Gasol, who has changed the culture of the Lakers since coming from Memphis in a Feb. 1 trade."
And so begins this beautifully written article by Karen Crouse, who managed to actually have an athlete divulge something meaningful and illuminating about himself for audiences to indulge. Gasol comes across as a thoughtful, selfless, "glue-man," who has propelled the Lakers to the conference finals in part because of who he is as a person. One remarkable anecdote relayed by Crouse was Gasol's relationship with Eduardo Schell, a reporter from Marca, a daily sports newspaper based in Madrid. Before interviewing Gasol, the two men embraced. A journalist and an American athlete hugging-it out before a Q and A? Perhaps someone should tell Kellen Winslow outrageous bursts of machismo are not always needed for a thought on the day's contest.

But perhaps most remarkable was Gasol's untrammelled curiosity for things new and foreign. Tickets to the opera? Sure, why not? A new rock band promoted by the Lakers' vice-president for public relations? “I didn’t know anything about either of them, but I enjoyed it a lot,” Gasol said Thursday after practice. “I enjoy good music and art and culture, so it was a pleasure and an honor to be sitting there.”

At the end of the interview, Gasol thanked Crouse for her time. In an age where athletes have issues conducting interviews in their native tongue, Gasol comes across as a breathe of fresh-air. Successful professional athletes, like Gasool and former Phillies outfielder, Doug Glanville, who understand that there is more to life than just the pursuit of sport, should receive more accolades and attention. Sports should lead the way in distancing itself from the old newspaper adage: "When it bleeds, it leads" by covering athletes as gracious and multi-dimensional as Laker Pau Gasol.

7 comments:

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