Don’t let anybody tell you that the job of a professional athlete is do win games and that whatever he does off the field or the court or the rink is his business.
That may be true in the arts, where there can be more leeway. Frank Sinatra consorted with mobsters, but his music was a separate thing. When Charlie Sheen is a jerk, that adds to his appeal for some.
But in sport, character matters. Kids are watching.
We know this not from the example of the worst of the bunch — Ty Cobb with his mean streak, or Pete Rose with his gambling jones — but from the best.
That would be Ernie Banks.
Every kid who grew up a Chicago baseball fan in the 1950s and 1960s learned a lesson in good cheer and graciousness from Banks, long before anybody called him Mr. Cub. Every kid watched him play his heart out, never complaining, always looking on the sunny side. On teams that never won a pennant.
In the handful of days since Ernie Banks died, millions of words already have been spoken and written about his accomplishments and character. The whole town adored him. And honestly, we can’t think of anything more to say.
But when someone dies who meant a great deal to you, who shaped you for the better, you feel compelled to add a few words of your own, even if you never even met the man. It’s human nature.
We’ll miss you, Mr. Banks. You’re a bright star over Chicago now.