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Hefferon: Huskers display philanthropy (Apr. 16)

Jack Hefferon | Tuesday, April 16, 2013


The sports world has a tendency to take itself pretty seriously.

This past weekend, a giant fell when Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon. Australia put everything else aside and celebrated as one when Adam Scott won that country’s first green jacket at the Masters. And with the Cubs putting a Jumbotron in at Wrigley Field, the last of our sacred traditions has died, and the apocalypse is nigh.

These sentiments were not far from reactions I heard across the sports media landscape this weekend, and these types of hyperbole and melodrama are all too common in sports. At their core, sports are more about the games you played as a kid than the “epic battles” they’re made out to be.

It’s true that sports are a billion dollar industry and that millions do invest their hearts in following their favorite teams and players. And. sure, the biggest games on the biggest stages do come around once in a while and deserve such hallowed tones.

But on most days, we’re talking about inconsequential, overhyped matchups. Spring training. Exhibition games against Division III schools. The Bobcats vs. the Jazz. In the grand scheme of things – really, in any scheme of things – these games don’t matter, but the parties involved try to convince us that nothing could be more important.

The pinnacle of these non-events, though, is college football’s spring game. The spring game is an open practice masquerading as a game, tryout and celebration all in one, when it is in fact none of these things.

That’s why it was so refreshing to see one program push the football somewhat aside and use the platform of the spring game to do something actually worthwhile. On the last play of its scrimmage, Nebraska brought seven-year-old cancer patient Jack Hoffman onto the field and into the game at running back. With 60,000 fans cheering him on, Hoffman ran 69 yards for the score and was carried off the field on the team’s shoulders. 

Hoffman said the experience made him feel “almost like he was a Husker,” and the moment has become a nationwide story – gathering just a bit more attention than which backup center had the best showing that day. Stripping the game of its self-importance was a win-win for Nebraska and Hoffman’s family, and there’s no reason other programs shouldn’t follow suit.

Some already have, as several of the nation’s top college basketball programs have begun to play early-season games for American soldiers on aircraft carriers stationed overseas. 

Most teams do some sort of public outreach and charitable work, but by putting that mission at or above the level of their least important games, they can create a true opportunity to do more good on that greater stage. I’m not saying that sports are irrelevant, and I believe competition and tradition should be preserved at every level. But Nebraska struck a chord last week that other teams are more than capable of emulating, and really there’s no reason not to.

So to college and professional teams that are busy hyping up their next all-star game, preseason exhibition or spring game: Stop taking yourselves so seriously.

And maybe then you can do some serious good.

Contact Jack Hefferon at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.