Pro athletes do show their emotional side

Published 4:14 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Sports fans, like myself, often get caught up thinking that the gifted athletes we watch on TV or in person at a game aren’t like us.

Well, that’s true in the sense of pure athleticism. The great majority of us are unable to run 40 yards in under 4.8 seconds. Nor do we have a vertical leap of more than 40 inches or a broad jump in excess of 12 feet. And I bet’cha a dollar that the majority of us cannot bench press 200 pounds more than 40 times in a single setting.

But finely tuned athletes are mortal human beings because, like the rest of us, they have a heart that often breaks emotionally.

In advance of this past Sunday’s Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens contest, I read several articles containing all the typical pre-game hype linked to a clash of this magnitude. While both teams are razor focused on winning the AFC title game and advancing to the Super Bowl, there was one article showing the soft-hearted side of pro athletes.

“Two Letters in End Zones Will Be Painted a Different Color for the AFC Championship Game – It’s Not a Coincidence” was a headline that caught my eye in a story posted online by The Western Journal.

The story “catchline” was that while the Kansas City Chiefs will be in Baltimore [Sunday] to take on the Ravens in the AFC conference championship, and while all eyes will be on quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, some fans will probably notice something a little different in the Baltimore end zones.

The Western Journal noted that as they have for several years now, the Ravens will paint the M and O in Baltimore a different color than the rest of the letters. That is done, according to the story, in honor of the birthday of young super-fan Mossila “Mo” Gaba, who died of cancer on July 28, 2020 at the age of 14.

Gaba would have been 18 this past Friday.

It was noted in the story that Gaba, prior to his death, had been diagnosed with cancer four times and had spent roughly 75 percent of his life in hospitals.

The Ravens posted a photograph of Gaba with their star quarterback Lamar Jackson on social media Friday.

“Thinking of you Mo, today and everyday,” the team wrote on X.

The story shared that at the age of 9, Mo started calling in to a Baltimore sports radio station, WJZ-FM, and “quickly captured the hearts of Baltimore City and all of Maryland,” according to CBS News.

On the radio, Mo wanted to share his opinions about the Orioles and Ravens like he’d heard others do on the station, so he called in secretly while his mother was at work.

He went on to be a frequent guest of the station.

In what would end up being his final call to WJZ, he encouraged listeners: “If you want to be like me, just be yourself.”

And who wouldn’t want to be like him, the storywriter asked.

It was noted that Gaba was the first person ever to read an NFL draft pick in Braille when the Ravens chose Ben Powers in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, ESPN said.

His “star status” was so bright that he once got to call a play in a Ravens huddle during practice — a play that resulted in a touchdown pass by Jackson — as well as throw out the first pitch before an Orioles game.

As an added treat, the Ravens marching band played “Pomp and Circumstance” at his middle school graduation.

After the ceremony, Ravens offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman gave Gaba a game ball with “#MOSTRONG” inscribed on it.

“Actually, this doesn’t go to me,” Gaba said, according to ESPN. “This goes to my mom.”

“If we all had a little more Mo in us,” Bozeman said, “the world would be a lot better place.”

Athletes with the Ravens and Orioles aren’t the only ones who have build special bonds with children who have health issues.

I read another story a while back about Marcus Smart, a former basketball standout at Oklahoma State University who was the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, chosen by the Boston Celtics. Smart is now a member of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

The story, originally posted in 2022 at jdsupra.com, shared Smart’s younger life where he held hands with his brother, Todd, while he battled leukemia while they were in elementary school. He was also with his mother when, just a few years ago, she had bone marrow cancer.

When he arrived in Boston as a rookie in 2014, Smart began making hospital visits quietly — no cameras, no media, no tweets, according to the story I read. It seems that Smart wanted to spend time with kids who needed a friend and a distraction. Doctors and nurses would introduce him to those who had chemotherapy treatments that morning. They would explain to him how rough the past few days had been for their patients, hoping he could make their day a little easier.

The story went on to stress that Smart “often catches off-guard the public relations machine that surrounds his legendary team and hospitals in the Boston area with his unannounced visits and the depth of his commitment to assisting sick kids and their families. He declines photo and video opportunities and says little about his private time spent in places that most elite athletes would dread”, the Athletic reported:

Smart goes about things quietly, spending one-on-one time with the patients he visits so he can establish a real connection. After his mother died in September 2018, he hosted a private dinner for families staying in Boston Children’s Hospital’s patient housing and sat down with each and every person there.

“I think it’s so personal to him and it’s a very emotional time for him, going through flashbacks and reliving some of that as he sees kids with their parents,” longtime friend Phillip Forte said. “He knows exactly what they’re going through and the conversations they’re having with those doctors. He understands how personal it is to those families and he doesn’t want it to seem like he’s doing it for attention.”

We need more pro athletes like Marcus Smart who lead by example and do what they do for the good of others instead of themselves.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications, Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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