A recent Sports Illustrated article about Paralympics rower Blake Haxton made me stop and think. It made me realize that I, like many others, was looking at the method and not the message.
Haxton was a high school senior in 2009 when he somehow contracted necrotizing fasciitis; the disease best known as a flesh eating disease. Very few flesh eating victims survive.
Blake Haxton wasn’t supposed to survive – but he did.
Haxton’s sport in high school was in the water – as a rower. He was good enough to be recruited by several of the major college powers in the various rowing sports. He was set to head to college with the goal of someday rowing in the Olympics.
But, that was before his date with necrotizing fasciitis.
That was before the flesh eating disease took his left leg and most of his right leg. Before there was no feeling in either hand.
No legs, no hands, no rowing, no Olympics.
And, no depression.
By 2013, Haxton earned a finance degree from Ohio State and had started to have feeling back in his hands. He sat down at a rowing machine and started to row. But, it was different. To him, rowing was the symmetry of coordination between his hands, his arms, and his legs.
No legs – no symmetry of coordination.
Still, the rowing bug took over. A year after first sitting in the rowing machine, Haxton got back in a boat for the first time – and started to row.
He worked on his rowing to the point he was invited to row for the American Paralympic team. His event was to be the men’s single scull.
He was at peace with himself, and with his condition as he approached his shot at the Olympics – even if it was the Paralympics.
As he prepared his mind and his body, he reflected on four words that changed his life.
Four words spoken to him before the 2014 World Championships in Amsterdam, where both able-bodied rowers and para-rowers would row. Blake Haxton would watch events that he should be a part of.
But, those events required legs.
So Haxton had to set his mind to his own performance.
It was while riding in a van that was taking him from the Amsterdam airport to his hotel that he first met Coach Tayler Brown, a rower for the US senior team. A rower with two good legs, two good arms, and two good hands. A rower who could do what Blake Haxton could no longer do.
As Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated wrote:
“Haxton had never met Brown before, but by then he had met plenty of people who don’t know how to act around a man in a wheelchair. Some pretended they didn’t notice the obvious. They worried they would say the wrong thing.
“Brown got out, immediately told the driver behind them to stop and helped Haxton with his luggage. Haxton thanked him. Brown said “Of course, man.”
“And then Brown said those four words: “One team, one dream.”
“One team, one dream.”
Those four words started me thinking.
We are one team. We do have one dream.
We just express that one dream in different ways.
For those who have read my recent A Stone’s Throw columns, you know I have been very outspoken about the demonstrations during our National Anthem. I originally felt those protesters were dishonoring America. Then, after hearing the views of veterans, I somewhat changed my mind.
Now, my mind has been completely changed.
I now think that those who kneel, those who sit, and even those who raise their right arm and fist, are sharing the same dream as those who stand and honor the flag.
One team. One dream.
Today there are two voices demanding justice for all. One voice is destroying property and lives through violence. The second voice is demanding justice with a peaceful demonstration and a verbal and written dialogue.
Just awareness and dialogue.
I feel and hope that everyone has a desire and a demand for justice, fairness, and equality.
The definition of justice may be different. It may be ‘Black Lives Matter’, ‘Blue Lives Matter’, or ‘All Lives Matter’. It may be a desire that all are treated the same by law enforcement and the courts.
It may be the treatment of the homeless, our senior citizens, our veterans – both disabled and those not. It may be about the undocumented and the illegal.
It may be something else.
Fairness? Taxes. Welfare. Social Security. Refugees. And on and on.
As for equality, it may be racial equality, gender equality, economic equality, or any of a thousand others.
It doesn’t matter.
We don’t have to agree with one definition over another. But, if we want the right to express our dreams and thoughts, we have to honor that same right to others – even if we do not agree with the method or the message.
Unless that message includes violence.
We need to take the time to listen and consider the message of those who protest silently. Of those who protest loudly. Of those who protest peacefully.
But not those who protest violently.
They are not on the team.
And, they do not believe in a dream.
They only believe in the publicity brought on by violence and destruction. They know the media loves it when a protest brings violence.
But, the media also loves when the entire WNBA Indiana Fever women’s basketball team chooses to kneel during the National Anthem.
Kneeling together, the Fever showed truly – they are “One team, One dream.”
In writing A Stone’s Throw, I have the opportunity, and the ability, to express my thoughts and opinions in any terms I want to use as long as I do not libel or defame anyone. As long as I use my words and thoughts, or give credit where credit is due when I use the words of others.
My readers can agree with me – or not. My readers can smile or frown. .
That is the beauty of America
Is this any different than when individuals, or groups, choose non-violent actions and words to generate a dialogue of their choice?
I don’t think so.
Everyone has a dream. Everyone one has a message.
Different thoughts, different motives, different approaches – it doesn’t matter.
Each and every day in the future, I will try to remember those four words and what they mean.
We are all “One team, One dream.”
– Mike Cooney