Two iconic names from my childhood recently made the news. Everson Walls donated a kidney to Ron Springs, who has type 2 diabetes.
Walls and Springs were teammates on the Dallas Cowboys during the 1980s.
I grew up in southeastern Ohio in the 1980s as a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys. When I was 9 or 10 and started becoming interested in football, nobody else in my family followed American football. Thus, I had no familial influences to help determine my loyalties. Nor did I have friends or even classmates who were Dallas Cowboys fans. In my circles, fanhood was evenly divided between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. My main two criteria for choosing the Cowboys were (1) they won often, and (2) I liked their uniforms and helmets. Despite these embarrassingly superficial origins of my loyalty, over the years the bond I felt to this team became, as it does for most sports fans, deeply rooted.
Ron Springs was not a renowned player at the professional level. He played his entire career in the shadow of the legendary Tony Dorsett. But I was a big fan of Ron Springs for two major reasons: (1) He was the consummate team player, always working his hardest to help his team win while other players on the team received much more individual acclaim. And (2) he was an Ohio State Buckeye, having co-captained the Buckeyes football team (my favorite college team) during his senior year.
Everson Walls was an outstanding player in the National Football League—in fact, many people (including me) believe that he was a Hall of Fame caliber player.
But unfortunately, Walls is best known for being on the short end of one of the most famous plays in NFL history: “The Catch.”
During the 1982 National Football Conference championship game (whose winner would earn a trip to the Super Bowl) between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, the Cowboys were up six with less than a minute left, and the 49ers were deep in Dallas territory. The 49ers quarterback, Joe Montana, was about to be run out of bounds by three Cowboys defenders, when he desperately threw an impossibly high and hard pass to Dwight Clark in the end zone, who jumped, stretched, and caught the ball with his fingertips, against all logic.
The great Everson Walls, who had Clark covered reasonably well, nonetheless could only watch as Clark made the super-human catch that would send the 49ers to Super Bowl XVI, in which they would defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21.
Even if you’re not a fan of American football, you’ve probably seen “The Catch” on television. I was watching it on television live, and it was truly heartbreaking (to the extent that the outcome of a sporting event can be heartbreaking). To this day, I cringe when I see that play or its famous photo that originally appeared on the cover of the Jan. 18, 1982 issue of Sports Illustrated.
When I heard the story about Ron Springs and Everson Walls and the kidney donation, I got online and, after a bit of searching, discovered the website of The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (www.optn.org). OPTN is operated by the United Network for Organ Sharing, which, by agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, facilitates every organ transplant in the United States and maintains an online database accessible to the public.
Through www.optn.org and some additional research via states’ organ donation websites, I found a few relevant statistics regarding organ donation in the United States: Over 95,000 people are currently on waiting lists for organ donations. About 7,300 deceased Americans per year donate organs, and about 6,700 living Americans per year donate organs. And every year, over 6,000 Americans die waiting for an organ.
Being a living organ donor clearly takes a great deal of courage, generosity, and selflessness.
But signing up now to donate organs upon one’s death is simple and demands none of those traits. Organ donor registries are maintained by individual states. It took me about five minutes to find the State of Illinois webpage devoted to organ donation and to register online to be a donor. And then I informed my family.
We often hear discouraging stories of the ill-advised or illegal hijinks of professional athletes. For a concerned sports fan, it is a welcome event when a professional athlete does something truly inspiring away from the sport.
So let it be noted.
And, perhaps, let us act on it. Let us do something small and simple and at virtually no cost to ourselves, that might save somebody else’s life someday.
|Ranjit Souri (rjsouri [at] gmail [dot] com) teaches classes in improvisation, comedy writing, and creative non-fiction in Chicago.|