Athletes and Brothers

May 1998

           There are times when sport isn’t sport. It is a metaphor.

            When a millionaire athlete strangles his coach, it confirms our worst fears about our society.

            When a pampered college athlete plays four years, never graduates and can’t read, it merely proves our suspicions.

            When a former professional athlete slashes his wife’s throat and leaves her and an acquaintance to die bleeding on the ground, yet he is exonerated because he could run with a football, we despair.

            But then a kid from Middleton High School inbounds a basketball with six seconds left in the Wisconsin State High School basketball tournament.

            The pass flies through the air the length of the court. It hangs for an instant. And then the smart, disciplined kids from Milwaukee Vincent converge on the ball and sway it away. There is a frantic scramble. A Middleton player retrieves the ball at half court with the clocking ticking past three seconds. He shoves the ball toward the basket and time stops. No one breathes.

            The white Middleton kids in their black jerseys think, “Let it drop. Let it go in. We have played so well. We have been strong and smart. We have played s a team. We did not back down. Just let this shot drop.

            And the black Milwaukee kids in their white jerseys think, “Please don’t let that shot drop. We have played so hard. We have been strong and smart.

            We have played as a team. We did not back down. Don’t let this shot drop.” And then the ball bangs high off the backboard and falls to the floor. The Middleton kids sag. The Milwaukee kids leap.

            Moments later the crestfallen Middleton athletes accept their second-place medals and silver trophy at half court.

            And now comes another metaphor. And another moment when sport becomes transcendent. And we witness a scene that will become Wisconsin lore.

            The kids from Milwaukee Vincent more to center court to accept their first place medals. But as all-state player José Winston accepts his award, he does not run back to celebrate with his teammates. Instead he moves to the Middleton bench and hugs Chris Hogg and every other proud but despondent Middleton player. Each Milwaukee player follows, walking this gauntlet of mutual respect.

            The entire Milwaukee Vincent team moves now to center court. They hold aloft the golden trophy that signifies their Wisconsin schoolboy championship.

            And they kneel in reflection. And then one by one, the Milwaukee kids look to the Middleton kids. And they beckon them to join them.

            And so together these young men, smart and tough and disciplined athletes all, kneel to honor each other and the game they have played.

            And we who stand watching know they are brothers.

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