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Northwest Passages

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since 2017


With Karen Wickre and Tess Vigeland


Steve Christilaw: Contrast to big egos? Try Special Olympics

There is a very good reason why the world plays soccer in open-air stadiums.

It’s the only way you can fit Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego onto a pitch.

Big egos are nothing new, and even USA Today went so far as to suggest that the star of both the Portuguese National Team – playing until last week’s first round of knock-out games in the World Cup – and Real Madrid is the most arrogant athlete in sport.

“God sent me to Earth to show people how to play football,” he has said.

It’s been suggested that Ronaldo rankles at being compared to rival Lionel Messi, star for Argentina and Barcelona, who is generally seen as a humble superstar. Ronaldo is obsessed with scoring more goals than Messi to prove his superiority.

Everyone needs a goal.

Look, to excel at sport you need a healthy dose of self-confidence, and the best players have it in amounts that frequently border on cockiness. And more than a few overdose on it.

John McEnroe once asked an official, “Do you have any problems, other than that you’re unemployed, a moron and a dork?”

As a member of the dismal Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA, Christian Laettner looked around his locker room, pointing at every teammate’s locker. “Loser, loser, loser …” he said of each and every player. He then pointed to himself and said “Winner.”

Michael Jordan once proclaimed “There is no ‘I’ in team, but there is in win.”

Larry Bird used to ask what the arena scoring record was whenever he played an NBA road game, just so he could taunt whoever was tasked with guarding him.

A former NBA player once passed along this one about former Notre Dame star and oft-injured NBA player Adrian Dantley.

A group of sportswriters died and arrived in heaven. They were taken to a gym and there was a guy on the court practicing jump shots. Is that Adrian Dantley? They asked. No, St. Peter explained. That’s God. He just thinks he’s Adrian Dantley.

If you can back it up, you can get away with a lot.

USA Today suggested that Ronaldo’s supreme arrogance actually worked in Portugal’s favor at the World Cup, acting as a lightning rod for a team that had definite weak spots in its lineup of supporting characters.

The baseball world may have rankled at Rickey Henderson and Reggie Jackson referring to themselves, respectively, as Rickey Henderson and Reggie Jackson.

The former once called a baseball general manager and said, “This is Rickey representing Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

The latter once bragged that he had been sent to the plate as a pinch hitter and was asked to provide an insurance run, “So I hit it to the Prudential Building.”

Darold Knowles once said of Jackson, “There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover that hot dog.”

Neither may ever win a popularity contest, but they did win a lot of championships.

Which is why watching something like Sunday’s opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics USA Games broadcast from Husky Stadium was refreshing and inspiring.

As a Cougar fan, there hasn’t been much reason to cheer happily at Husky Stadium in a good, long while.

And then the Special Olympians paraded into the stadium – a parade that included one of the Spokane Valley’s own: Aaron Evans, who will compete in paddleboarding.

Hundreds of athletes from all across the country poured into the stadium, where Ann Wilson of Heart sang the national anthem and Gov. Jay Inslee declared the games open.

It was the antithesis of arrogance and cockiness.

In fact, I would suggest that it was the essence of the Olympic experience in its purest form.

The Special Olympics celebrate its 50th anniversary since Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the organization as a way to allow athletes with mental challenges to participate in athletic competition.

Participation in Special Olympics benefits athletes on many fronts. It provides a major boost to self-esteem. It improves motor skills, cognitive skills and social and emotional skills. It helps athletes improve on their communication skills.

And oh, is it inspiring.

Anyone who has ever watched a Special Olympics competition has a story or two to tell about how inspiring it can be. About the incredible support these athletes show one another. About how winning is secondary to the joy of competing.

No chest pounding here, but there are lots and lots of hugs.

The games get into full competition mode this week, and Seattle has embraced them as host city. It does the heart good to see the city roll out the red carpet.

It feels like we overdose on overdoing the cockiness thing.

We focus on the preening and the strutting and the chest pounding, in hopes that someone can deliver a measure of comeuppance.

The Special Olympics are the antidote to all that.

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