published Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Cleaveland: The news conference that wasn’t

On July 8, I visited the gravesite of Army Sgt. Daniel Tallouzi in Santa Fe’s National Cemetery to pay my respects and to place flowers at his headstone. In September 2006, he sustained a shrapnel wound to his head while serving in Iraq. He never regained consciousness, finally succumbing to his injury in February 2009 in his 24th year. During this interval, Sgt. Tallouzi’s mother led a vigorous and successful campaign to assure that service men and women with severe head injuries would receive proper care in military and Veterans Administration hospitals.

Having devoted a column last year to Sgt. Tallouzi, I owed him this visit.

Later that day, National Basketball Association superstar Lebron James, in his 26th year, announced at a gaudy news conference his move to a new team with a contract guaranteeing $110 million over six years.

Here is a statement that I wish professional athletes would consider on such occasions:

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the media.

“Before I announce my plans for next season, I want to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed services. Every day they work in difficult, often dangerous places to protect us and to uphold our national interests. Many have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many more have been wounded. Some will never regain the chance for a normal life. Let us keep all who serve in our daily thoughts and prayers. Before each game, when the national anthem is played, let us remember the sacrifice of others that we may enjoy ourselves in safety.

“I am grateful to those members of my family who have taken care of me. I thank my teachers and my coaches who taught me more than I can ever repay. Many students and young athletes will never enjoy the privileges that I have. They may attend poor schools that are not safe. Their schools may have cut physical education classes because of tight budgets. They may not have a safe place to play or to meet friends after class. Their neighborhoods may live under constant threats of violence.

“I am pleased to announce today that I have established a foundation whose purpose will be to support after-school programs for sports, for art and music, and for tutoring for kids who need some extra help. I will ask educators, coaches and experts in child welfare to advise the foundation in meeting its goals. I look forward to meeting with groups who support the needs of kids in every city in which I am privileged to play basketball so that I may learn how my foundation can offer hope for a brighter future to boys and girls.

“I will donate 20 percent of my yearly earnings to the foundation.

“Basketball is a great sport, and I owe it a lot. I will play a hard, clean game from every opening tipoff. I pledge that I will never do anything to dishonor the game, my team, my city or the National Basketball Association. I will renew a pledge each year that I will never use performance-enhancing drugs or any illegal substances. I will try my best to be a role model for youngsters.

“I have signed a new contract to play in a different city. I will always be grateful to my fans and supporters of past seasons. I will never forget my former teammates. I look forward to playing for my new team in a new city. This is an honor that I take seriously.

“Thank you.”

E-mail Clif Cleaveland at cleaveland1000@comcast.net.

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