Do Sports Build Character: Injured Foot Edition

March 3, 2013

Ryan KellyLast evening, Ryan Kelly returned to the Duke line-up after a two month absence, and poured in 36 points as Duke defeated Miami 79-76. Miami, a very good team, had thumped Duke a few weeks ago with Kelly out of the line-up. Coach Mike Krzyzewski called it “one of the performances for the ages.” (College sports are full of bombastic utterances, but few of them come from Coack K.)

It was a remarkable basketball performance — it would have been remarkable if Kelly had simply played the 32 minutes in a high-intensity game after a two month layoff. But it was also a remarkable human performance, one in marked contrast to a great deal of Division I athletics.

Here, after all, was a fourth year senior. He has shown himself to be an excellent player; but it is unlikely he will be a star in professional basketball, and may even not pursue basketball after graduation. Duke, for its part, never said anything more about Kelly than that he had a foot injury. There were no periodic updates, no releases of his medical records. He was only told he would play (and resume his starting role) shortly before the game.

Here is a young man, someone widely liked and admired, who really loves to play basketball. He hoped there would be more to his senior season than the games played before January 9. He waited, he anticipated, he prepared as well as he could (not being able to practice) and then played an astonishing game, “one for the ages.”

He will learn lessons from it, I imagine, about what focus and persistence and determination can bring in this life, and perhaps the rest of us can learn a measure of those lessons as well. Sometimes college athletics does deliver.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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