Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series on athletic power off the field.
A spotlight that becomes a Sport Light can change lives.
That’s the theme of a movement circling around the country. It seeks to rattle athletes to an awareness of the power they have to inspire others and to use their celebrity to elevate those around them.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 12 teens has attempted suicide. These young people suffer from bullying, depression and feelings of being left out. They don’t see how they fit in and are often excluded. Their lives feel meaningless and without purpose.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Athletes can come to the rescue.
This resonates with Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz and former Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer. It’s catching on with a generation of football and basketball players as well as stars of other sports.
It is the message Utahn Dustin Smith presented to 80 young people at Springville High on Thursday. He began the movement called Especially for Athletes (E4A) several years ago as a business coach and presenter talking to groups around the country. One day he found himself honing his message directly to athletes.
He hands out wristbands with the words: “Eyes Up” and “Do the Work.”
Smith admonishes athletes to use the sportlight they’ve earned because they are taller, bigger, faster and more talented. “I urge them to sit on the front row in school with their eyes up looking adults in the eye, to walk around with eyes up, acknowledge others, make a friend a day, find people who are loners or struggling and do something for them. I tell them to look to God and give vertical praise, to see there are things bigger than they are.”
Smith’s push is the topic of a book co-authored by Shad Martin that's due out in a few weeks. It's titled “Especially for Athletes, It’s More than Just a Game.” It includes forewords by Detmer and Marty Haws (the father of Tyler and T.J. Haws) and an endorsement by Dr. Steven J. Stowell, president of the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness.
Hayward, who has committed to the program, wore one of the E4A wristbands in his final three games of the NBA season.
Smith, a partner with Detmer in a quarterback development business, piggybacks E4A in sports camps, tournaments, speeches, presentations and other events.
“Ty brings a loud voice and a platform for the message,” said Smith.
“Athletes can do so much more with what they’ve been blessed with. They have the ability to make a huge difference in our society. Bullying and other problems with our youth in schools must be attacked from the inside. I encourage our athletes to talk to someone they might not have considered having words with, notice who needs a friend and make them your friend, include somebody."
Some athletes who have committed to the program include Notre Dame safety Chris Badger and UCLA offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo. Smith recently got a call from Arizona high school athlete Carson Jones, who was singled out at LDS General Conference for befriending a young classmate with learning disabilities and changing her life with the help of his football teammates.
Jones called to report to Smith that his friends had started to befriend others, to include them as friends. Smith has received texts at 5 a.m. from athletes anxious to tell him of people they have touched.
Smith has plans for several E4A events for youths 13 through 18 in Orem on June 7-8. A larger event is being organized in Salt Lake City in August. (Info is available online at EspeciallyForAthletes.com and QBelite.com.)
“The thing is, when you are an athlete, you have structure and status. You belong to something and are in a group. It’s the kids who walk around invisible and would give anything for two minutes of inclusion that really need this help and there are plenty of athletes with celebrity who can do just that with very little effort — if they care about more than just their own spotlight,” said Smith.
“Go around with your eyes up and find these people.”
And this shouldn’t be limited to just athletes, if one thinks about it.
We all could take this challenge and do the work.
“Look for opportunities. Don’t be distracted. Be a doer.”
Athletes do live in the spotlight, but that fades over time. What may never fade is what they do with that sportlight while they’ve got it.
“I just tell young people they’d hate to go through life missing out on great opportunities that may only come their way once. They’d hate to look back and see that they wasted that moment — that it simply got away from them when they were basking in the spotlight.”
The concepts are simple:
1. Do the work.
2. Compete without contempt.
3. Seek to bless, not to impress.
4. Strive to be your best — not the best.
Says Smith: “Quarterback Elite is something we do to help train QBs. We have had some good ones in the program (Ammon Olsen, BYU; Dallas Lloyd, Stanford), but this message of using the attention given you through involvement in sports — the sportlight — to really defend the weak and change the lives of others is something Tim Tebow, David Robinson and other great men and women have shown is appreciated by fans around the country. We need the teens to feel inspired and committed to be doing the same.”
How cool is it to do this stuff? Smith seeks to make it the cool thing to do.
I say bravo.
Continue on to part two: Ty Detmer has walked the talk.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.