Over the last couple of weeks, Philadelphia fans have had the honor of witnessing two Philly greats being eternalized in their respective Halls of Fame.
From two different sports and two different walks of life, Brian Dawkins and Jim Thome have come to epitomize Philadelphia sports legends. And during their acceptance speeches, we were able to hear from two men who heard our chants for so long. These speeches not only were remarkable for their levels of humility and grace, they also showed the true multidimensionality of two professional athletes who exemplified greatness on the field and became role models off the field for teammates and fans alike.
What made Dawkins' speech so special is the way he bared his soul, especially regarding the pain and depression he felt at various times throughout his career. Hearing about his pain while still bringing immense joy to those watching him showed both the pressure athletes face and the strength they hold on to. Dawkins acknowledged having suicidal thoughts and actually trying to plan how he would kill himself so his wife would still get money. But he realized that there was a purpose for his pain and that God had a plan for him. It is rare that someone bares his soul so totally.
Dawkins' speech wasn't great rhetoric or creative concepts. It was basically a string of 'Thank yous" to everyone who played a part in the football player and person he has become. And he didn't forget the Eagles fans, especially those who drove to Canton, Ohio, for the ceremony.
"Hey listen, I have a good understanding that you don't have money just to waste, so that means you put hard-earned money that you could be saving to come out here and celebrate with your boy." he said. "So, thank you! Thank you for loving me the way that I love you. I love you back. And I thank you. Thank you for everything."
Thome's speech was more poetic. His love of the game and the people who populate it was evident throughout.
"The Hall is also a place where players and fans come together to celebrate the game that has no borders, no boundaries, and will forever be defined by its timeless nature," he said. "Because even though the cell phone might have replaced the transistor radio, and the iPads are more common now than the sports page, baseball is still played the same way, between the lines."
In the end, what makes Thome special is not his incredible baseball skill (although 612 home runs!), but the type of teammate he was and person he is. He spoke to that in his speech, saying:
"To every kid that is dreaming of standing here one day, take it one moment at a time," he said. "Don't sail too high or sink too low. Learn to be good at handling failure. Be the first one to the ballpark. Be the last one to leave. Work hard, don't complain, be a great teammate. Ask other people about themselves. You never know what you might learn. And above all, treat people with respect. The best compliment any baseball player can receive is that he is a good teammate. It's the reflection of all the things not listed on the back of the baseball card. It's the focus, the attitude, the openness, and the way an individual picks you up on Monday but will call you out on Tuesday. In short, it's about accountability, reliability, and commitment."
I think it's fair to say Thome was the epitome of a great teammate to those who both played with him and against him.
We Philly sports fans are very lucky. We've had some of the most exciting and successful teams represent us and our city. They've given us great moments and we've had the extra pleasure of watching some terrific human beings play for our city.
Let the record show, Brian Dawkins and Jim Thome are among the best of the best of those.