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Integrity in Today’s Sports

I do not know what it is like to score 54 points on the biggest stage in the basketball world, Madison Square Garden; to effortlessly drain 11 three-pointers while leaving the entire arena in absolute awe. I’ve played a lot of basketball in my life and shot my own fair share of three-pointers, albeit on a much, much smaller stage, but other than that, I have very little in common with Stephen Curry: an NBA player, a rising star, and a growing celebrity. That is until I read the following article by the renowned sportswriter Rick Reilly, Net Gain, which describes how Curry spent time this summer in Tanzania to hang bed nets to protect people in refugee camps against malaria. In particular, I knew exactly what he meant when you see the suffering and the poverty and someone asks for help, and you are left wanting to assist but thinking, “I don’t know what to say to him.”

Although Curry spent much of his time in the western part of Tanzania at a refugee camp that was established as a result of the civil war in its neighboring country, Congo, I had the opportunity as a student in the summer of 2010 to spend six weeks on the east coast of the nation, primarily in the city of Dar es Salaam. I saw many of the same things he surely has seen: the poverty, the malaise, the fight for survival. I saw people walking in the middle of busy streets, which lacked any semblance of organization or rules to the road, holding baskets of fruit they hoped to sell. Some of those people did not have limbs; some clearly were suffering from a disease. I saw the mothers on the corner of the street with their small children trying to sell merchandise that had existed in America for several years already, seemingly the goods we did not want being dumped on a poorer country for their use. I experienced a society in which running water is a luxury.

However, I also experienced a very unique culture that cannot be fully captured in words. The people in Tanzania, despite any hardships they may face, were extremely embracing and warm, welcoming me and teaching me about their way of life. Storeowners, street artists, and other vendors all took the time to engage in a conversation with me in my broken Swahili, smiling the entire time. After my classes at the University of Dar es Salaam, people of all ages – students from elementary school all the way up to adults out of college – flocked to the soccer field and the basketball court. Despite the dirt patches in the dried out grass of the soccer field and the cracks in the cement of the basketball court, we all enjoyed the sports for what they are: an interaction of people in a competitive environment that builds friendships and character. I distinctly remember the smiles on the faces of the small children, who were too young to be disillusioned by the harsh reality of this difficult world. They were innocent, just like the children here, and they had hope. When the sun finally set, and everyone had to go home, I could only hope that they too were going home, to a safe place, and would be back the next day.

Those were the moments when I was left in that same situation as Curry describes: wanting to help more but not being able to, hoping that perhaps my friendliness may elicit a smile and a feeling that could somehow allow that person to survive another day and continue on. Unfortunately, as a student whose eyes were just being opened to an entirely different world outside the comfortable one we live in here, that was all I could do: hope.

Stephen Curry though is doing much more than hoping; he is making a difference. Through the program, Nothing But Nets, Curry donated three bed nets for every three-pointer he made this past season in an effort to reduce the cases of malaria. He happened to set an NBA record this past season for three-pointers made (272 to be exact), and during the past few weeks he actually went to Tanzania to hang with his own hands all those nets he helped fund with his three-point stroke. He didn’t just donate money, which is honorable in its own right, but he actually went there to Tanzania, interacting with the people, the same people he may be saving from a potentially life-threatening disease.

These days, one is more likely to find coverage of an ongoing scandal than an actual highlight on SportsCenter, never mind a heart-warming and inspirational story like this. Whether it is the issue of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in baseball and the resulting fiasco surrounding it, the criminal cases that are being tried, the numerous suspensions of college athletes for various infractions, it makes you wonder where the actual sports have gone: the ones we all grew up playing and watching and from which we have lifelong memories. Does power and money truly corrupt? Is that just a part of human nature, whether you are an athlete or not? Have we idolized these people to a point where we expect greatness and unbelievable abilities, even if it means they lack character in doing so and we are content with turning a blind eye to that?

Curry’s story may take a backseat on ESPN every night to other developments in the sporting world, but it certainly shouldn’t. Those stories seem to overshadow the ones that feature so many athletes contributing to the betterment of our world, through donations, charities, or other means. Curry, like many others whose great works for humanity may fly under the radar, is using his stardom, his money, and his power to change the world, not allowing that money and power to change him. Stephen Curry has proven that he is an elite basketball player, but, way more importantly, he is a good person. As the aforementioned article describes, he is a loving husband and father, and he is making a difference in the world. It is admirable. It is inspirational. It is the epitome of integrity.

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