Young and old remind us of what counts

mlough@macon.comJune 15, 2012 

Every so often, we’re given hope.

We muddle through stories and sound bites about concussions leading to violence and suicides, a college coach raping kids, a shooting in a college town, a lawsuit here, threats there, a legendary coach suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, and assorted business and financial and realignment disagreements.

Or you get fans beating up on fans just because they’re not fans of the same team. Yes, the aliens await taking over the planet.

And then stories crop up that some might miss amid the other insanity. Two happened recently, within a week of each other, generations apart, reminders of what the species is capable of, and what should be more of the norm.

The first takes us back to an often unpleasant era, a half century ago when open-mindedness seemed considered a negative trait. Yeah, not like now, where it’s so embraced.

The 1957-58 NBA season was coming to a close. Cincinnati had a team, the Royals, and Maurice Stokes launched himself and flipped over the shoulder of an opponent.

His head hit the floor, rendering him unconscious in a time of, “Can you hear me? What’s your name? Eh, you’re OK” athletics training and medicine.

A few days and games later, the 24-year-old Stokes -- in his third season -- fell into a coma and was diagnosed with brain damage that left him paralyzed.

Stokes didn’t have much money, and he had to live in Cincinnati -- three hours from his and teammate Jack Twyman’s hometown of Pittsburgh -- to receive workman’s compensation.

He was alone, financially challenged, paralyzed away from home, black and in the 1950s.

So Twyman, who had played against Stokes in summer leagues back in the ‘Burgh, gave “stepping up” a new definition. Twyman, a year younger, became Stokes’ legal guardian, opening the door for bills to be paid.

Twyman organized fund-raisers while taking care of Stokes while involved in his own Hall of Fame career.

On any simple, basic level, and in any era in any geographic region, Twyman’s humble actions are extraordinary. Shoot, you barely hear a “thank you” if you hold a door open.

But that Stokes was black and Twyman white renders the situation beyond extraordinary. This was the 1950s, when we weren’t, ahem, as enlightened and welcoming as we are now.

Twyman cared for Stokes until Stokes’ death at the age of 36 and spent years trying to get Stokes into the NBA Hall of Fame, which he entered in 2004.

Twyman died on May 30 at age 78 at a hospice after complications related to blood cancer. And the Twyman-Stokes story was revisited from coast to coast, deservedly so.

We need the reminders.

Three days later in, ironically, Ohio, Meghan Vogel had won her division’s state 1,600-meter title, but she wasn’t really near the front in the 3,200.

Near the end of the longer race, she saw competitor Arden McMath collapse. Vogel stopped, picked up McMath and basically dragged her to the finish line.

So McMath finished second-to-last and Vogel last.

In a stunningly joyous case of logic overwhelming protocol, the state association did not disqualify either runner for violating an “aiding a runner” rule.

In a stunning case of “are you kiddin’ me?,” a national talk-show host bemoaned this country’s lack of competitiveness, and a caller said the girl would never run again if he were the coach, citing our country’s sudden lack of competitiveness.

You just sigh and shake your head.

Fortunately, the poster children for birth control didn’t get into Twyman and Stokes. You can just hear that one: “The thing is, it’s natural law about survival of the fittest, so if the guy had brain damage and was paralyzed, why go through all that to keep him alive?”

Vogel had already won the 1,600 meter title and was nowhere in contention in the 3,200. I doubt the rest of her career will be spent trolling the back of the pack to make sure everybody’s OK.

Jack and Meghan deserve our thanks -- and let’s not make a big deal about it, because they never did -- for the all-too-rare reminder that the Golden Rule has always been a good thing, even if mocked.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 mlough@macon.com

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