Jul 28, 2013

Who Do You Trust: Sports Heroes?

This has been a tough week for Major League Baseball, and even more so for its loyal fans. Sadly, the abuse of steroids and the rationale that players must "cheat to compete" has tainted every player with suspicion in much the same way that Lance Armstrong's eventual admissions did with cycling competitors.
I've written previous posts about the need to offer young readers legitimate and significant role models beyond pop culture icons. During the Summer Olympics last year I featured biographies of  remarkable athletes whose accomplishments involved overcoming extraordinary hardships to even compete in their respective sports.
Which brings me to the question of how to approach discussions of tarnished  heroes with children. The title of this post harkens back to  Who Do You Trust, a popular 1950's game show originally emceed by Johnny Carson. Now that was a time before corruption and deceit were so pervasive (it's kind of tricky to type with my tongue lodged in my cheek). 
It's a tough question: Who DO you trust?
Perhaps some of the best advice to give kids is to avoid going "all in" when hero-worshiping current stars, saving their highest admiration for those they know the best. In many cases that means those who play a direct role in their lives, "up close and personally", to twist a familiar sports phrase into something real.
Another bit of good advice is to look back in time to those who have completed their careers, those whose lives have been scrutinized and evaluated through the lens of history. "Old school" heroes, if you will.
Picture books offer that view with an irresistible blend of immediacy, engagement, and a healthy dose of authenticated content.
Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2000
SATCHEL PAIGE, by Lesa Cline-Ransome with paintings by James E. Ransome, is one such book. It seemed particularly ironic to me that the announcement of baseball suspensions began immediately following the weekend designated to honor the Negro League teams. Leroy (that's his given name) was born with an abundance of natural gifts, as are so many sports and entertainment idols, but he devoted himself to developing those gifts through practice. He threw rocks instead of baseballs, but he also collected bottles for pennies and toted bags at the train station for tips to help his large family survive.
He swung a stick over his shoulders and hauled several satchels at once to increase his income (not to mention his strength) until his friends said he looked like a satchel tree.The name stuck. 

Perhaps his family's desperate economic conditions convinced him that some indiscretion was justified- he was caught stealing. That landed him in a reform school. There he had three meals a day, a pair of shoes, and a baseball team with an actual coach. It was a blessing in disguise.

The mystique of Satchel Paige's many baseball accomplishments is not based on hype, social media, or even statistics alone. His remarkable willingness to take what has been dealt to him (or what he may have dealt himself) and play that hand to the best of his ability is the quality that makes him a universally admired figure who transcends the realm of baseball. 
He trusted his talent to speak for itself.
Carolrhoda Books, 2013

Ransome makes the point that after decades of being excluded from Major League baseball because the color of his skin, "Satch" had little respect for the rules and rituals of the league, including pregame exercises and taking signals from the catcher. What he did respect was his own talent, and he NEVER saw a need to "cheat to compete".

I've written about this topic in earlier posts, including the 2013 release, SOMETHING TO PROVE: The Great Satchel Paige vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio, by Robert Skead and Rob Skead, illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

Any young baseball fans who are disillusioned by the lies and rule-breaking of their current heroes need to look no further than non-fiction picture books like these and others to find role models that have already stood the test of time.  These names are remembered for their contributions to their professions and to their communities, not for flamboyance, or, worse yet, for inflicting damage on themselves, their fans, and their chosen careers.

Earlier this week Anna M. Lewis had a post on the  I.N.K. Blog(Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) with some related titles you should also check out:

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