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We should all feel included

Sports help teach that diversity should be embraced

If the human brain contained a filter for insensitive and inappropriate comments, more television sports broadcasters would still be employed.

Mike Milbury is the latest case study on why many attempts at humor and candor are best reserved for private settings and not the public airwaves.

During a qualifying-round game between Pittsburgh and Montreal in the NHL bubble last season, Milbury made an ill-advised analogy between the empty arena and attendance at college women’s hockey games.

That was not his first quip that should have been left unspoken.

NBC ended Milbury’s 14-year run as a studio analyst when it announced the network’s NHL broadcast team in early January, offering the customary thanks for all of his contributions and wishing him well.

Few words said plenty.

Only Milbury knows whether he slighted the entire sport of college women’s hockey intentionally or simply blurted out something that was funnier when formulated in his mind than when it rolled off his tongue.

The bigger issue for discussion is the perceived relevance of specific sports and the various roles performed in the athletic arena.

For decades, Olympic sports at colleges and universities across the country were referred to as non-revenue sports.

The reference possessed an air of condescension and made it appear that programs such as gymnastics, fencing and swimming were less valued because of the red ink they added to the balance sheet.

Times have changed, and so has the terminology.

Since early last fall, Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller became the first woman to score in a Power 5 conference football game, an all-Black officiating crew worked an NFL game for the first time in league history, and NFL referee Sarah Thomas was selected to be the first woman to officiate this weekend’s Super Bowl.

These experiences are not gimmicks designed to draw attention to the sport.

Instead, they are opportunities earned by talented individuals through hard work and commitment. In any profession or notable endeavor, sacrificing merit for notoriety rarely produces lasting impact.

With the announcement of the officiating crew’s assignment for the Nov. 23 Los Angeles at Tampa Bay Monday night game, league executive Troy Vincent said the historic teaming was “a testament to the countless and immeasurable contributions of Black officials to the game, their exemplary performance, and to the power of inclusion that is the hallmark of this great game.”

No sport should be disparaged simply because it’s not the mirror image of another.

The WNBA has not produced attendance figures, television ratings or merchandise sales in the same strata as the NBA, but it still maintains significant stature culturally and professionally.

Do the Special Olympics and the Paralympics contribute any less to the betterment of society than Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer?

Obviously, the case can be made that the contributions are immeasurably greater.

Sixteen years ago, Bob Schieffer of CBS News wrote a commentary on the value of sport, noting how it teaches us to recognize the difference between winning and striving for excellence, to handle failure, and to persevere after losing.

He stressed that those lessons represent the core values which have long been the strength of this country.

Considering the challenges that the U.S. is confronting today, the diversity of our sports and the people engaged in them should be embraced and celebrated, not minimized or discounted.

Even in jest.

Caltagirone is a frequent contributor to Voice of the Fan. He resides in Altoona.

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