Sports have had a lackluster shine recently. In the past 12 months we’ve seen Tiger Woods’ armor reduced to rubble as the seedy underbelly of his personal life surfaced. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing was given a four-game suspension next year for failing a drug test, and all the while, John Calipari, a man who has put two programs on probation without a single personal consequence, was riding on top of the college basketball world at Kentucky.
This is partly our own fault as fans. We put athletes on pedestals, projecting their athletic prowess as interchangeable for being a good person. When we make athletes out to be great people based on their performances on the field, then we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Tiger Woods is an exceptional golfer, not necessarily an exceptional person. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Michael Jordan were all the same, but they just happened to live in an era before TMZ and the Internet.
Yet, not all athletes are self-centered egotists who think they’re above the law. There are still those who don’t let their fortune and fame turn them away from helping others.
This is why Georgetown should be proud of Dikembe Mutombo (SLL ’91), both for having been an influential force on such a remarkable man, but also for his acceptance of Georgetown’s core Jesuit mission.
utombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, spoke little English when he came to Georgetown, but worked in the classroom to graduate from the School of Linguistics and now can speak nine languages.
Obviously he is still best known for being a shot-blocking phenomenon for John Thompson Jr., but Mutombo has followed the Georgetown mission of producing men and women for others.
Rather than use the wealth which he amassed in the NBA for his own comforts, Mutombo went about trying to make a difference in the world, and particularly in his native country of Congo. Rather than spend offseasons relaxing on the beach, he continued to work to better his home.
Working to improve living conditions in the impoverished Congo, he set out to build a hospital outside the nation’s capital, Kinshasa. He guided the project to completion in 2007, by which point he had donated some $15 million of his own money to the project.
Georgetown and John Thompson Jr., both deserve credit for molding a man for others, but the Georgetown College deserves praise for acknowledging his humanitarian work with an honorary degree and the chance to speak to Georgetown students.
In the age of Tiger’s late night romps and athletes run amuck with selfish, hedonistic lifestyles that emphasize huge mansions and a variety pack of cars, it’s great to see that there are still some out there giving back.
At the basketball banquet this year, University President John J. DeGeoia told the team that in many ways they are part of Georgetown’s worldwide public image because of the media attention they get. It’s good to know that in Mutombo, the Blue and Gray have an upstanding ambassador to the world.
Over the past two years in this column we have looked at everything from the impressive Rhodes Scholarship of Myron Rolle to the trivial ring argument started by Max Kellerman to the greed the permeates college sports at every corner. For anyone who shared the ride at any point, I truly thank you.
Sports in and of themselves are trivial, but if I’ve learned anything in the past four years, it is that their impact is what makes sports special and what makes “games” important. Sports are both a positive influence and a corrupting one. Sports unite communities but they also drive budgets and priorities at major American universities.
Sports are what drove thousands of people onto N Street to celebrate a Final Four. Sports are what got thousands of students out of bed and into three feet of snow for the trek to Verizon Center. It’s hard to think of many other things which could inspire people like that.
We may oftentimes place hero status on athletes who don’t deserve it, but that shouldn’t deter us from embracing sports. Athletes, just like the teams they play on, will always disappoint us – it’s nature. Fortunately, they don’t always disappoint, and whether it’s a Final Four run or humanitarian work in the Congo, sports will always give us a reason to smile and be proud.
Ryan Travers is a senior in the College and a former sports editor at The Hoya. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/illprocedure. He can be reached at traversthehoya.com. This will be the final installment of Illegal Procedure in Hoya Sports.