I have covered and attended plenty of sporting events in my life, but I have never seen the level of sportsmanship I consistently find at Special Olympics competitions.
The organization, which spans more than 170 countries and involves more than 5.3 million athletes, offers us all a simple but profound motto.
“Let me win, but if I can’t win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
I have written about the bravery of these athletes before.
They go hard, sprint to the finish line, play to the whistle, fall down sometimes, pick themselves up, and keep moving forward.
I admire their ability, their tenacity and their joy.
But, the Special Olympics program wasn’t developed just for the athletes. Their mission, “to change attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities and to transform lives through the joy of sport, every day, everywhere,” applies to everyone.
The goal isn’t just to provide a nice arena for some eager competitors; it’s to show spectators how real heroes play the game.
If you’ve never attended a Special Olympics event, you should treat yourself to one soon. Pay attention to how hard those athletes try and how happy they are to have the opportunity to test themselves.
Think it’s not possible to be both competitive and kind? Take a bleacher seat at a Special Olympics game and see how it’s done.
It’s not just the athletes who learn fair play and accountability. It’s everyone who sees them do their thing.
I thought about this as I read news accounts of Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ plans to eliminate government funding for Special Olympics and even President Trump’s announcement that he had “overridden his people” and reinstated the funds.
It seems to me that sometimes the people cutting funding to a program are the very ones who would benefit from it the most.