A typical exchange between me and my two twenty something sons, as they are watching a televised football game, goes something like this;
“What inning is it?”
“They don’t have innings in football, Pops. They are called quarters.”
“I want to get a DNA test done on you two. You can’t be related to me.”
But my ignorance of sports notwithstanding, I have grown to deeply respect and admire Mo Cheeks, fired from his job yesterday as the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers.
If you have ever raised a teenaged daughter, and I have, you know that there are no more volatile organisms on this planet. One learns to choose words carefully when a 13 year old girl lives under the same roof. At 13, a girl begins experiencing the alluring but garish reality of womanhood that draws her away from the security of the family cocoon created by more cautious and experienced protectors. Comfort and familiarity begin clashing with dreams and desires of what could be.
Mo Cheeks, in a moment that epitomizes grace, presence of mind, kindness and chivalry rescued one of these multi conflicted 13 year girls from potentially one of the most humiliating experiences of her young life. And in so doing, Mo earned the heartfelt gratitude of adult protectors everywhere.
As the brave, young Natalie Gilbert stood before a televised crowd at a Blazer game in 2003, she began to sing the national anthem.
But a living nightmare descended from the rafters of the Rose Garden that night and suffocated into silence the hours of practice that Natalie had endured to prepare for her televised performance in front of 20,000 Blazer fans.
She forgot the words.
In how many venues, in how many places and in how many countries would everyone just stare and feel sorry for her?
But not this night in Portland, Oregon.
Out of the silent sea of humanity that stared down at Natalie strode Mo Cheeks. Purposefully, yet gently, he approached the young girl who by now had buried her humiliated face into the microphone. Undoubtedly dying a thousand deaths, she looked up to see the tall, kind man put his arm around her shoulder. With a smile and a comforting arm to support her, Mo turned with Natalie to the awkwardly silent crowd and picked up the song where Natalie left off.
The strength of Mo’s presence flushed out her fear, primed her fibrillating synapses and Natalie began to sing again. Mo Cheeks, because of his instinctive and compassionate presence of mind, saved the dignity of a child that parents throughout America wanted to reach through their television screens and rescue that night.
Moms and Dads everywhere wished this were a world we could safely send our daughters into comforted by the knowledge that a Mo Cheeks would step in to save them whenever the many dangers of life appeared.
I don’t know whether or not firing Mo Cheeks was the right thing to do. I do know that the indignities Mo had to suffer from some of his players boorish behavior must have been exponentially more painful for a Man whose life has been guided and punctuated by the countless acts of grace and dignity Mo Cheeks shows others.
Especially a 13 year old girl named Natalie Gilbert.