A Sports Hall of Fame for Good Deeds
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We offer this next story as a holiday gift to sports fans sports fans who desperately need a break from brawling NBA players and other assorted athletic delinquencies. This is a story about a man who was convinced there are good athletes among us. He created a special hall of fame to prove it.
Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.
TOM GOLDMAN: Seventy-three-year-old Myron Finkbeiner loves to tell stories, this one in particular. He was taking a group of kids and their parents on a tour of his World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in Boise, Idaho. They all stopped in front of an exhibit honoring former NBA star David Robinson, a 1998 inductee to Finkbeiner's Hall.
Mr. MYRON FINKBEINER (Founder, World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame): I said, how many of you heard that about 10 years ago, Dave Robinson went to a fifth grade class. And he told these fifth graders, he said if you guys will stay off of drugs, off of tobacco, off of alcohol, and if you maintain a C+ average, he said, I will see to it that each one of you will get into the college of your choice and I will give you a scholarship to go to that college.
GOLDMAN: Years later, Finkbeiner told the group, David Robinson presented those scholarships to 72 high school seniors.
Mr. FINKBEINER: I said, how many of you heard of this story? And there wasn't a single hand that went up. I said, now if David Robinson was picked up for DUI last night, how many of you would hear that story, and every hand would go up. And I said, this is the reason why we're in this business of honoring the world-class athletes.
(Soundbite of Olympic commentary)
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Unidentified Male: Wilma Rudolph of the United States in the lead. Jutta Heine(ph) of Germany in second place. It's Wilma Rudolph leading all the way...
GOLDMAN: Nineteen-sixty Olympic track champion Wilma Rudolph is one of 34 athletes and one team, the Harlem Globetrotters, who've been honored for their goodness in the Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. Yes, the name makes some giggle. Sports humanitarians? What kind of oxymoron is that?
But the words go hand-in-hand to a person like Myron Finkbeiner. The former high school and college basketball coach was once described by a friend as a walking Happy Meal.
Mr. FINKBEINER: When I was coaching, it was very important that the kids that played under me, if they were not a better person at the end of the year from when they started, I felt like I didn't do a good job.
GOLDMAN: Since creating the Hall in 1994, Finkbeiner and a selection committee have chosen recognizable world-class athletes who've done something significant in a humanitarian way, like former NBA all-star Steve Smith. He contributed more than $3 million to his alma mater Michigan State. Smith was inducted last month. He talked about it recently at Madison Square Garden, where Smith was working as an NBA broadcaster.
Mr. STEVE SMITH (Former NBA Player): To get a chance to be recognized as a person, you can't get no better than that. I think it's definitely an honor for me to get a chance to be able to tell my kids.
GOLDMAN: Talking nice during an interview is one thing, but afterwards, Smith gave a glimpse of why Myron Finkbeiner picked him. Smith turned to recording engineer Melanie Guardo(ph), a woman he'd met just 15 minutes before.
Mr. SMITH: Thank you. Thanks, Melanie.
Ms. MELANIE GUARDO (Recording Engineer): No problem.
Mr. SMITH: Nice meeting you. Happy holidays.
GOLDMAN: Myron Finkbeiner knows his hall of good people is bucking the trend in a society fascinated with bad behavior. He figures that's why it's been slow raising the $10 to $12 million needed for his dream: a 50,000 square foot Hall of Fame building on the Boise State campus.
But Finkeiner will keep telling his stories and answering anyone who asks, where are the good guys in sports.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.