We don’t really know athletes. We think we do. We think we have a connection to the men with whom we spend our free time, the men who entertain us every evening. But we don’t really know them. We don’t know how they treat their friends, how they treat their families, what they do and what they care about. We know so vastly little about what they allow us to know. It’s the same way with all celebrities. We think we know them, but we really know so very little.
I never met Craig Sager. I only know him from his time on television, those few minutes per game where he would interview the stars and give the viewers a look into the minds of the athletes and coaches. I didn’t know him on a personal level. But, from everything I’m hearing, I certainly wish I had.
After battling cancer for years, Craig Sager passed away yesterday at the age of 65. His fight with illness had been well documented, and the entire sports world had rallied around him through each round of treatment and each long recovery. When news came of his death, the entire sports world stopped to remember the man that, according to his friends and colleagues, had been as colorful and joyful as the suits he wore.
It is easy to make someone into a saint on the day he dies. That wasn’t the case for Sager, though. Reports of his spirit and his joy were widely known, his zest for life well documented. As the stories and the love came pouring in, it was clear that this was a man who truly was as good as his reputation claimed. He was defined by the way he treated people, the way he attacked his job, and the way he brought a little joy to the world. To be able to do that, regardless of your role in life, makes you great. And Craig Sager truly was great.
Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is widely known for hating in-game interviews. He has a reputation of giving reporters and awfully hard time when they ask questions, and doing everything he can to avoid them altogether. The only exception: Sager. Popovich would always make time for Sager, even if he didn’t want to do the interview. Last night, in his tribute to his late friend, Popovich said of Sager: “If any of us could display half the courage he has to stay on this planet – to live every life as if it’s his last – we’d be well off.”
When I have children, if they take after their dad, they will want to be sports fans. When I show them the foundations of my love of sports, it won’t be the touchdowns and the dunks that define why I love the game. It won’t be the home runs or the money and fame. It will be men like Sager, that used a microphone and a tie to bring joy to the lives of those who loved the game, and who used their voice to make the world just a little brighter.
May his memory be a blessing.