Best night on the St. Louis sports calendar. Too many highlights: Arnold Palmer honoring Stan Musial, Stuart Scott’s daughters honoring Ernie Johnson, Brett Hull honoring the selfless gesture of a young Winnipeg Jets fan to a girl fighting cancer.
This stuff’s been celebrated for a decade here, and I covered the event annually for the Post-Dispatch. The event’s organizers, the St. Louis Sports Commission, asked me to write a reflection. It’s reprinted below.
My fondest wish: The event gains the national and international audience it deserves.
The Musial Awards have done a lot of growing up over the last 10 years or so, to the point that the trappings of this evening are hardly recognizable to those of the first edition in St. Louis, back in 2005.
The venue has changed: from the hotel previously known as the Renaissance Grand, to the Khorassan Room of the Chase, to the headquarters of Edward Jones, to the Peabody Opera House.
The name has changed: from the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance Awards Dinner, to the National Sportsmanship Awards, to the Musial Awards. It took a while to boil it down, but with each change the mission has come more clearly into focus. By personifying the awards in a man who held all the virtues we celebrate tonight, we have a face, a vocabulary and a shorthand for all that’s right in sport.
The heart and soul of the event has remained constant, though, and you can hear it in the refrain from award winners throughout the years.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Anybody else would have done the same thing in my place.”
“I’d want someone to do the same for me.”
Plain-spoken? Yes. Boring? Hardly. We never tire of hearing those words, uttered by athletes from all sports and of all ages. They have been as famous as Tony Gwynn or Joe Torre or Isaac Bruce or Lou Brock, as anonymous as Joshua Harter or Kris Hogan or Darius McNeal or Meghan Vogel.
Regardless of celebrity, we’ve applauded each of their stories. We’ve risen to our feet. We’ve cried (Hope you finally remembered to bring the Kleenex this year).
Perhaps because we need acts of class, character, selflessness, generosity, civility and integrity to counterbalance the barrage of stories about cheating, doping, betting scandals, excessive violence on the field and domestic violence off it.
But maybe the need to hear those simple explanations over and over runs deeper. Athletes perform physical feats that the rest of us can only dream of, seeming to stretch the boundaries of human accomplishment. Behind the state championships and world records and MVP awards, though, they are only human, like the rest of us. The honorees have chosen to illustrate that similarity through their acts of character or integrity: their acts of humanity. We may not be able to replicate their athletic achievements, but we can replicate their humanity.
And, we’d like to believe their words, that anybody would do what they did. We hope that given a similar situation, we would respond by rising to the occasion. When we cheer for their humility, honesty or generosity, we’re really encouraging each other — and more importantly, ourselves — to do the same.
May tonight’s honorees and those to come in the next 10 years offer more examples to the rest of us and give us new clues that help us to recognize the opportunity to respond with class, selflessness or integrity: to create our own Musial Moment.