Thursday, February 19, 2009

Because It Was The Right Thing To Do

I know I'm a day late on this story, which I've now seen all over the Web and on ESPN's Around the Horn and Mike and Mike In the Morning, and I just wanted to put my two cents in on it.

In short, Johntell Franklin, a senior at Milwaukee Madison High School and captain of the basketball team, lost his mother, Carlitha Franklin, to cervical cancer on Feb. 7. That night, his team had a game against DeKalb, Ill., High School.

The team considered cancelling the game, but Franklin told them to go on with it. He decided to show up and support his teammates in the second quarter and asked to suit up. One problem, his name wasn't written in the score book, so the refs assessed a technical foul and awarded DeKalb two free throws.

Darius McNeal, a senior for DeKalb volunteered for the free throws and what happened next is possibly the greatest sportsmanship story I've heard of in sports in a long time.

McNeal shot the ball only a couple of feet and it rolled down the lane. Then the ref gave him the ball for the second shot, and he did it again.

McNeal said after the game that it was the right thing to do.

It's great to see this sort of sportsmanship, especially from a teenager. To show that maturity, sportsmanship and respect for a hurting opponent is a phenomenal thing. It's great to read about, especially when there are so many stories today of athletes cheating the game, showing unsportsmanlike characteristics and other high school kids brawling on the court and in the stands.

I understand that the refs are there to enforce rules, even though I think an exception should be made for extenuating circumstances, especially when the team that's awarded the free throws argues that the technical shouldn't have been called.

But McNeal was right, what he did was the right thing to do. It was respectful, honorable, sportsmanlike, compassionate and above all, it was HUMAN.

Missing those free throws won't bring Franklin's mother back, nor will it take away the unfathomable pain that he must be going through, but one thing that it did do was let him know that there are people there that care about him. That he has friends, both on the court and off and that they will be there to support him through all of this.

And missing those free throws let me know that there is still good out there in a sports world that is too often depicted in the media as being corrupted by cheating, scandals and unsportsmanlike conduct.

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