Philip Schwalb, CEO and Co-Founder of the SPORTS museum of AMERICA, the Heisman Trophy's new home in Lower Manhattan, could not be more pleased. Schwalb speaks with great admiration for the manner with which Tebow, the first sophomore ever to win, very clearly delineated his life priorities in accepting the award last December. "He’s exemplary in that regard,” recalled Schwalb, pointing out that Tebow actually named Football fourth among his priorities – after Faith, Family, and Academics. All of which is now a matter of public record in the breathtakingly impressive Heisman Gallery on the museum’s second floor.
OKLAHOMA’s Bradford, the second sophomore to win the Heisman, spoke movingly about his parents in his acceptance speech this December 13th. “From a young age they pushed me, they pushed me for greatness.” Schwalb, too, recalls his own father planting some similar seeds in his mind when he introduced him to the inspirational axiom about Persistence. “You've probably seen it in a lot of places, but it's very powerful – this idea that nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.” [“Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.”] “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Persistence. Resilience. Determination. Tenacity. In fact, given how central such lofty values, character issues, and life lessons are to the mission of the SmA, the first and only national sports museum of its kind, it's no wonder the Heisman is one of the cornerstones of the organization.
The Heisman Trophy, you may recall, was formerly housed in the Downtown Athletic Club, which suffered catastrophic damage on 9/11. For years, both the Trophy and the ceremony were homeless, nomads left to wander from venue to venue. The SmA had actually extended an invitation several years ago, but were previously turned down. You want to talk about “Persistence,” though? Buttonhole the avuncular Schwalb when you get the opportunity, and he will very likely let you in on how some of his own persistence helped the powers that be at the Heisman Trust see the validity of having the SmA house their trophy, heralding it as one of the crown jewels in all sports, as opposed to it simply having its own museum. In that regard, we might consider the Heisman Gallery, and the annual fanfare attendant to same, Schwalb's trophy in some ways, a validation for his tenacity in seeking to establish a venue that might serve as a haven for the sport’s history, tradition, and prestige. “It's important to us, in that we try to celebrate the finer things in sports here.”
As PSL's and ticket prices go sky high, and broadcasts get started later and later, etc., there's an oft-forgotten demographic in our sports equation, namely our kids – especially the youngest of them. Psychologists (and teachers) will be the first to tell you that kids tend to look for role models not so much in adults, but in older kids, somewhat larger versions of themselves. An opportunity for college athletes like Bradford and Tebow to help fill the void.
“We live in a time when pro athletes have let children down as role models quite often,” points out Schwalb. “And fans, too… whether via steroids, or other performance enhancing drugs… even things like the recent Plaxico Burress incident.”
There's an exhibit at the SmA called The “Dream Big” Gallery. In fact, it's one of the first things you see upon entering. Artifacts from the life of the young Derek Jeter, the young Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Billie Jean King. It’s the perfect introduction to what is, in essence, a teaching museum – not so much an homage to winning and individual accomplishment, but rather the why's and wherefore's of the sports themselves, an exploration of what the intangibles might be that compel the best of us to compete, and at the highest of levels. Take a moment to reflect on what young men like Tebow and Bradford hold in their hearts these days, and what you've got is the walking, talking embodiment of the “Dream Big” gallery.
And that's probably Schwalb's favorite thing about it all. “It's not just that the Trophy is here, but that this is where the conversation begins."
Of course, Heisman winners Bradford and Tebow will be holding something very different in their hearts come January 8th, when Florida and Oklahoma square off against each other in Miami in the BCS National Title game. But count on them to demonstrate some exemplary graciousness and sportsmanship towards one another – to the benefit not just of their alma maters, but to the game in general. And all on national television. That we actually get to have them around beyond January 8th is an added blessing. And that we’ve finally got a national museum to help celebrate young men like this, and all that they stand for – well, that’s a blessing, too.