Unlikely Heroes

Just when I think we are coming apart at the seams and nothing can seemingly stop the foolishness going on around us, I am rescued from the folly by unlikely heroes.

Today it begins with Sloane Stephens. Don’t know that name? Unless you are a tennis geek like me you probably wouldn’t. As of last year at this time she was ranked in the 800s in the world. This morning she is the U.S. Open champion having won the tournament as the first unseeded winner in the open era (since 1968).

Sloane remarked that as a junior player, her mom took her to a tennis academy where the head instructor told her that the best she could hope for was maybe a scholarship to a Division 2 college. I’d love to see that guy today and ask how he feels about that assessment. This is also a tribute to the hard work Sloane put in to achieve greatness. Not to mention that she had surgery on her foot only a few months before the tournament.

That she won the tournament was remarkable. That isn’t what has rescued me today. It was the aftermath. She had been playing against her best friend on tour, another surprise finalist named Madison Keys. Two young African American female tennis players reaching the final of a Grand Slam was a good enough story. But Madison played poorly. She felt the weight of the occasion far more than Sloane. In tennis terms, Madison choked on the occasion and that is a very large audience for someone to choke in front of.

After match point, the two met at the net as is typical for the congratulatory handshake. But this was far more. Sloane embraced her friend for a long time, offering her encouragement and the love of a friend. It was a transcendent moment—more dramatic than the tennis, itself. Then Sloane did something that has never been done before in such a setting. While waiting for the trophy presentations players typically sit in their assigned seats on either side of the umpire’s chair. It is an awkward moment, especially for the runner-up. Sloane got up and went to sit next to her friend so they could wait together. They talked and eventually began to laugh together—the comfortable laughter that only good friends share.

Sloane Stephens is the classiest champion I can remember and she gives me hope today.

The other heroes are the countless thousands who made their way to East Texas to assist in rescue operations following Hurricane Harvey—and the many others who will undoubtedly make their way to the Florida west coast to assist with the aftermath of Irma. I saw a photo of hundreds of our brother and sister Tennesseans in a convoy of trucks and boats headed into the area to help find those who were stranded by flood waters—to help save lives. They didn’t have to go—but they did. They and thousands more like them from all over the country.

Sloane Stephens and these other heroes remind me that the majority of our neighbors in this country are good and decent people. We share similar values and we stand ready to help a neighbor in need. I think most of us really do know this about each other.

The problem comes when we listen too much to the shrieking of talking heads who have a vested interest—a financial interest—in causing disruption and chaos around us. They want us to become addicted to the drama so we can continue to “buy their brand”. There’s good news—we don’t have to keep falling for it. We are all being played as suckers and there is an easy fix—turn it off. Tune it out. Watch an episode of Andy Griffith.

We are better than this. These unlikely heroes prove that it’s true.