The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 18, 2013

The best and worst of sport

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — He stood in the early morning chill, bathed by harsh network TV lights illuminating the pile of twisted junk behind him.

Twenty-four hours earlier, that twisted pile of junk was his family’s home.

Scott Gundy’s house was destroyed by a tornado that swept through Washington, Ill., on Sunday, part of a rare November severe weather siege in the upper Midwest.

The scene was all too familiar to residents of Moore, Oklahoma City, El Reno and the other places affected by the deadly spring 2013 tornado outbreak.

Struggling against tears, Gundy spoke of being thankful he and his family were safe, and said he was ready to begin the long, painful process of rebuilding.

Then he said this.

“We’ve got a badass football team that’s 11-0 and going to play in the semifinals this week. Hopefully that will pick us up a little bit,” said Gundy.

That is sport at its very best. It is a rallying point, offering a sense of pride, a feeling of community. It can take us away from our everyday troubles and give us something positive on which to focus.

Then there is the other side of the coin.

Last weekend, 9-1 Winston-Salem State and 9-1 Virginia State were supposed to play for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association football championship.

This is Division II, small school football, with a 36-scholarship limit and total athletic budget that wouldn’t cover Nick Saban’s base salary. There is no regular national TV coverage, no ESPN Gameday, no BCS, no Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musberger. This is light years from the big-time.

But things got way out of whack last week when, at a pre-game banquet celebrating the two teams playing for the CIAA championship, a group of as many as six Virginia State players jumped Rudy Johnson, Winston Salem State’s quarterback, in a bathroom and punched, stomped and kicked him. Johnson was left with a black eye, cuts on his face, a headache, sore back and sore ribs.

Virginia State was banned from competing in the NCAA Division II playoffs, and one of its players was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault.

Virginia State’s coach said there was a rush to judgment and classified the incident as a fight and not an assault.

What sparked the incident is unclear. Perhaps the young men were debating the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act. Whatever sparked it, the entire affair is ridiculous.

Sport is supposed to teach us to compete, to work hard, to work together, to persevere, to never give up. But it also is supposed to teach us sportsmanship, to play hard, to give it our all, but to be gracious in defeat. And, in this case, nobody had been defeated yet, this was at an affair prior to the game.

Football is athletic competition, it is entertainment, it is not life and death. It is something to savor, to relish, to rally around, to take our minds off our worries, not to shrink from in disgust, to draw back from in horror.

Note to the CIAA: Forget the luncheon before next year’s championship game, unless you hand out boxing gloves, trunks and headgear along with the napkins, knives and forks.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at