Goodman Shaffer: Sports honor dads on Father’s Day

Some general observations as the sports world celebrates Father’s Day.

The connection between fathers and sports seems to be not only timeless but never ending. While moms undeniably play key roles in supporting their children’s athletic endeavors, there is just something special between sports, athletes and their dads.

Whether it’s a game of horse under a backyard basketball hoop, or a world-class championship final, the standards set by the family patriarchs seem to be a driving force behind many athletes; that bond is even more apparent on Father’s Day weekend.

U.S. Open winner Justin Rose pointed to the heavens as he won the coveted major championship, paying tribute to his father who died of leukemia more than a decade ago. During a post-game interview, Rose said he tried to act the way his dad had taught him, obviously hoping that his father could see his incredible achievement from beyond the grave.

Thoughts in the NASCAR garage at Michigan this Father’s Day were clearly with 5-year-old Charlie Leffler, whose racing dad, Jason, was killed on a New Jersey dirt track last week. While many drivers honored 37-year-old racing father in their own ways, race winner Greg Biffle sent postrace thoughts and prayers to the young boy who will now grow up without his beloved dad. In the wake of that tragedy, it’s hard not to think of former driver, Kyle Petty, forced to experience yet another year without his son, Adam, killed on the track in New Hampshire in 2000, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. going on without his legendary dad. The publicized losses seem magnified this holiday weekend.

During the Pittsburgh Pirates game, the bases engraved with Father’s Day emblems, the cameras couldn’t help but capture dozens of fathers and sons and daughters sitting in the stands, sharing the Sunday afternoon ballgame.

Outside the walls of PNC Park, sandlots of all kinds provide key bonding moments for dads teaching the fundamentals of sports to their children. From T-ball to high school and beyond, dads have spent hundreds of hours hitting thousands of balls to their kids, not to mention pitching and catching in the backyard.

If not baseball, then it’s dribbling and shooting for aspiring basketball players, tossing the pigskin getting ready for football season, kicking a soccer ball, or dozens of other ways to cultivate a wide array of sports dreams. It’s even the advice given on the ride home from the ballgame, and the chats while watching games on TV.

A small fraction of fathers actually see their kids reach true athletic greatness, but every dad seems to think of their own child as a superstar while many young athletes admire their fathers as though they were Super Bowl champions.

So for the time spent, the lessons taught, the memories made and the dreams realized – or not – it’s only fitting for sports and athletes of all abilities to honor their fathers.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.