Athletes, Politicians and Merle Haggard

By Daily Editorials

April 12, 2016 4 min read

Americans annoyed by the no-holds-barred, eye-gouging wrestling matches of the 2016 presidential campaign — and the accompanying horse-race analysis of TV experts — had a chance this week to enjoy some welcome distractions.

The winners of the NCAA men's and women's basketball championship games didn't criticize their opponents or question their motives. After beating them in exhausting, high-profile contests, they shook their opponents' hands and even hugged them.

Our would-be national leaders should have watched and taken notes.

In the men's championship, Villanova University defeated the favored University of North Carolina, with a final score of 77-74, on a last-second 3-point shot, which followed a game-tying North Carolina three-pointer with 4.7 seconds to go. Agony for one team and ecstasy for another, it was Villanova's first NCAA basketball title since 1985.

The women's championship game featured no such dramatics, but it was a testament to the sustained excellence of the University of Connecticut's basketball program. The UConn women won their fourth consecutive national championship Tuesday night, beating Syracuse University 82-51. It was the 11th championship for UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, the most ever in NCAA basketball — men's or women's.

Both title games capped multiple-round, month-long, 64-team tournaments that put the presidential candidates' tedious, drawn-out primary schedule to shame. Yet the players and coaches, unlike the candidates, rarely lose their poise and never blame the media for their losses.

College sports are not without flaws, but on the whole, practice after practice, game after game, they teach valuable lessons in teamwork, mutual respect, and setting and achieving goals.

Many college sports aren't played on the nationally televised stage that hosts the basketball tournaments. But all feature men and women with the determination and character that prepare them to compete and succeed in life.

Some of our presidential candidates would have benefited from such an experience.

Song of Redemption

Merle Haggard was not only a great American songwriter and musician, but, in many ways, he was America — rebellious yet traditional, conflicted yet certain.

Haggard, 79, died Wednesday. His life experiences spanned our nation: Born in Oklahoma, he moved to California, where he died. He recorded in Nashville, Tenn., and spent countless hours traversing our country — north to south, east to west — making music in grand halls and humble county fairs.

His was a story of redemption — he spent early years in detention and prison, but was later pardoned — and of the highs and lows expressed in his songs. He was a failure and success, a lover and a fighter.

He was an outlaw in the country music industry who defended and performed the genre in its purest forms. His name and career were known throughout the world, but his act was aptly titled Merle Haggard and the Strangers.

Few musicians could write and sing a sad song with the conviction of Haggard, whose lyrics and voice mixed misery with gin so powerfully that even the privileged among us could feel the pain (if only for the duration of one iconic song) of a young man who turned 21 in prison, doing life without parole.

Yet, for all the sorrow in so many of his songs, Haggard's life was, on the whole, an inspiring story of personal and professional perseverance in pursuit of authentic music that told an important chapter of America's story.


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