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Vol. 48, No. 3 • March 2011 • .pdf version
For real courage, look to this year's Most Courageous winners
By KIRK WESSLER / Third Vice-President
How many times every season do we sit in a postgame news conference and listen to a coach talk about the "courage" it took for a player to step to the free-throw line in the final seconds of a game and make two shots to secure the victory for his team?
I don't know about you, but I cringe when coaches frame such accomplishments as "courageous" or "heroic." It doesn't diminish the player to say what he/she did required skill and tough-mindedness, or "heart" – however we might define it. It does, I think, put us at risk of diminishing people from whom real courage is required simply to live each day, let alone play sports?
There's no shortage of real courage in the college basketball world. When it comes to the USBWA's annual Most Courageous Award, the tough task isn't finding candidates. Coaches and athletes all around us are battling serious physical afflictions. Thanks to advances of modern medicine, it's becoming easier to find coaches and student-athletes who are cancer survivors. Unfortunately, due to societal ills, it's much too easy to find stories about young men and women who have overcome harsh childhoods surrounded by drugs and death. The Internet makes their stories easier than ever to dig up.
I thought the task of putting together the list of nominees would be daunting. I was wrong. It was humbling. On every Google search, I clicked from story to story, wanting to know more about these remarkable people. The tough task belonged to the Board of Directors: Choose one man and one woman.
Courage is revealed in countless forms.
We considered young men who are refugees of the civil wars that ripped the Balkans and The Sudan, and others who are refugees of urban America's mean streets. We mulled one young woman who resumed her career after having a non-functioning kidney removed and another who plays with the knowledge that one day she'll require a kidney transplant.
We looked at young people who performed at high levels in the immediate wake of family tragedy, at coaches and players fighting cancer, at a coach who stopped on a highway to help rescue complete strangers from an auto wreck, at a Division I player who plays with one arm and another who plays with no hearing.
How do you differentiate?
We considered nearly 20 finalists, and every one of them deserves respect and recognition. Every one has exhibited true courage, on and off the court.
We settled on two young people with similar backgrounds. Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir of Memphis is the first woman to wear traditional Muslim garb in Division I games, and Arsalan Kazemi of Rice is believed to be the first Iranian-born athlete to earn a D-I basketball scholarship. They've endured and overcome a level of bigotry and discrimination most of us can only try to imagine.
We're inspired by both of them. You will be, too.
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