Local coverage of ESPN’s annual ESPY Awards focused on the will-he-or-won’t-he play-again soap opera that is Brett Favre’s career. The focus on the Vikings quarterback missed a really compelling regional angle to the well-known awards ceremony, held Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Favre wasn’t there to receive an award, but to give one out: the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given to those who transcend sports.
The award this year went to the family of Iowa football coaching legend Ed Thomas, who was gunned down on school property about a year ago by a troubled former student struggling with drug addiction and mental illness. I’m proud to say that Ed was a friend to me and my family. I’ve watched with awe as his wife and their two sons responded with the utmost grace and courage to this horrific tragedy. They clearly belong in the elite group of previous Ashe award recipients: Nelson Mandela, Billie Jean King and Muhummad Ali.
Ed created magic on the football field known as the "Sacred Acre" in the small town of Parkersburg, Iowa. The secret of his success on the field was that his kids just consistently played at a higher level than players on other teams. They did so not only because he taught them how to work hard, but because he made them believe they could win no matter what and no matter who they played.
It’s not surprising that a Facebook page honoring Ed has over 48,000 fans, that his death was a Sports Illustrated cover story, or that his family was honored in the star-studded ESPY awards this week. Many people knew Ed — or knew of him — because of the four NFL players he coached. They respected him because it was clear to everyone that the four players were only a small part of Ed’s work. Generations of kids grew up to be good citizens and parents because of Ed’s presence in their lives.
As for mourning him, Ed wouldn’t have liked that. His advice to those left behind would have been the same thing he told players dealing with setbacks: "Suck it up and go.’’ When they’re not attending awards ceremonies, his wife and sons are actively carrying on his good work through the Ed Thomas Family Foundation. More information is available about this amazing small-town coach and his legacy at http://www.edthomasfamilyfoundation.org.