How sports heroes give us all hope

Muslim Matters

How sports heroes give us all hope

Ibrahim Abdul-Matin (left) with Dwight "Doc" Gooden.

Ibrahim Abdul-Matin (left) with Dwight “Doc” Gooden.

Sports heroes for children are often a source of hope. For me, the 1986 New York Mets gave me hope amidst what many said was a hopeless situation in New York City.  Last Thursday, I had the unique opportunity to thank my heroes.

1986 was a difficult year for New York City and for the country as a whole. Felony arrests for cocaine and crack were at an all-time high and my neighborhood was an epicenter of this activity.  As young people coming of age in this era, going outside was dangerous. Therefore, the summer of ’86 was spent mostly indoors. To pass the time, my brother and I religiously watched the New York Mets.  Players like Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, and Doc Gooden had us fixated and excited.

We mimicked the games by moving our mother’s furniture, books and papers to create a baseball diamond in the living room. We used whatever we could find – folders for bases, balled up foil for a ball, and a pair of old badly-carved (by me) sail boats for bats – to play baseball.  When the games were on, we practiced our sports commentary.  Even as bullets rang out in my community and confusion reigned in the streets, I cherished and still cherish those hopeful moments.

We watched history unfold on TV that summer.  The ’86 NY Mets won 108 games that season, the 11th highest in the history of Major League Baseball.  As a young boy with little exposure to sports, the Mets’ performance back then created the expectation of winning.  While so many people were losing their lives to drugs, violence, or criminalization, I was subtly learning from Carter, Strawberry, and Gooden that winning was possible.

Ten years later, I found myself an award winning state level athlete and my heroes of the ’86 Champion Mets playing for the ’96 Champion NY Yankees.  The 1996 NY Yankees captivated so many ’86 Mets fans because of the familiar faces.

Last Thursday, I found myself face-to-face with those faces.  From athlete to environmentalist, I found myself invited to an event at Yankee Stadium organized by the Green Sports Alliance, an organization that works with sports teams to promote renewable energy, healthy food, recycling, water efficiency, and other environmentally sustainable practices.  It was a recognition ceremony for the NY Yankees’ for their efforts in lighting, composting, recycling, and management of waste cooking oil, water conservation, and use of composites in the construction of the new stadium.  Industry leaders of sports and sustainability schmoozed with one another.

But I only had eyes for Doc Gooden, four-time MLB All-Star, three-time World Series champion, NL rookie of the year, pitcher of a no-hitter in ’96, and one of my childhood sports heroes. Doc and I sat and relived the ’86 Mets. I told him about staying inside that summer and he told me about the trials and tribulations of being a pro-athlete in the 80s. I told Doc that I always had his back, and he thanked me.  I of course thanked him for being a source of so much inspiration and I emphasized just how much his iconic stature impacted young people in NYC back then.

I left Yankee Stadium that night feeling a strange yet fulfilling sense of closure – meeting Doc, being able to thank him, was a full-circle moment. The opportunity to thank sports heroes are rare, so until the chance presents itself, please take a moment to thank any heroes in your midst who have given you hope.

Editor’s Note: Ibrahim Abdul-Matin has worked in the civic, public, and private sectors and on several issues including sustainability, technology, community engagement, sports, and new media. He is the author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet and contributor to All-American: 45 American Men On Being Muslim. From 2009 to 2011 Ibrahim was the regular Sports Contributor for WNYC’s nationally syndicated show The Takeaway. Follow him on twitter @IbrahimSalih. The views expressed here are his own.

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