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FIRST-PERSON: Character in action off the court

LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–The nation’s sports pages are occasionally awash with stories of corrupt coaches, imprudent players and internal scandals.

But recently on the campus of Liberty University, an astonishing act of generosity and graciousness took place. I believe every sports page in the nation should pick up on this story to counter the sordid tales that people tend to remember.

Let me detail what transpired.

On April 14, in a convocation service in the Liberty Vines Center — with faculty, staff and the entire student body in attendance, High Point University star forward Danny Gathings, who had been awarded the 2004 Big South Tournament most valuable player award, handed over the MVP plaque to Liberty guard Larry Blair..


Because Gathings, who was an honorable-mention Associated Press All-America selection this year, believed he had not earned the award. His conscience simply wouldn’t allow him to accept the award because he felt another player was more deserving.

A few days prior to the convocation service, Gathings had gone to High Point Coach Bart Lundy to tell him he felt he had undeservedly won the award.

Lundy said that Gathings told him, “Coach, I didn’t deserve that trophy; Larry Blair did.”

It’s a rare thing in this age of self-promotion and self-adoration to find a young man who can take an honest look at himself and seek to correct what he sees as an injustice. This is the true definition of personal sacrifice.

Liberty University Coach Randy Dunton said the act was truly generous.

“I salute Danny Gathings for his example of sportsmanship,” he said.

As Gathings handed the MVP Award to Blair, he said, “I felt this was something that I needed to do. Larry was truly deserving of this award and I am happy to hand it over to him and honor his efforts as he helped his team to win a championship.”

Then, with a broad smile on his face, Gathings added, “Hopefully, I’ll deserve it next year.”

In their three Big South tournament games, Gathings averaged 11.7 ppg and 8.7 rpg, while shooting 55.2 percent from the field (16-for-29). Blair averaged 21.0 ppg, shot 55.8 percent from the field (24-for-43) and 56.5 percent (13-for-23) from three-point range, including a tournament-record seven three-point field goals in the championship game. Liberty beat High Point in the championship game, 89-44.

Per Big South Conference rules, Gathings cannot relinquish the MVP honor, but may do as he sees fit with the MVP trophy.

Lundy, Gathings’ coach, was visibly moved by his player’s action. He said, “I personally know these two young men … and even if you take the basketball awards away, there are no finer young men in college athletics today.”

He noted the negative publicity that college athletics sometimes receives, but said he was thankful to be a part of an action that countered the occasional embarrassing happenings that tend to garner the national headlines.

After Gathings presented Blair with the award, I was proud to shake the hand of this fine young man who has displayed such great character. Needless to say, the thousands in the arena gave this humble young man an extended standing ovation.

I told him, “This is the type of thing that needs to be on the front pages of all the sports pages across the country.”

I wanted to salute Danny Gathings with this column. His magnanimous action is truly inspiring and I do hope that many papers pick up on this story. I believe it will inspire many young athletes to conduct themselves in a similar fashion. The sports world, and indeed the entire nation, would be all the better if there were more people like Danny Gathings.
Falwell is pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and chancellor of Liberty University.

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  • Jerry Falwell