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Our interview with Thomas Lake, who some say is the best sportswriter in America (and I’d agree), has been one of our most popular. Here are some questions and answers we didn’t have room for in the magazine.
Tell us about the NFL player Rae Carruth and forgiveness … A football player, Rae Carruth, had a girlfriend who was pregnant. He told her to get an abortion. When she wouldn’t do that he asked a guy to beat her up so she would have a miscarriage. When that didn’t work out he had someone shoot her with the intention of having the baby killed as well. The mother died but the baby survived and the grandmother of the boy, Sandra Adams, cared for him. He turned out to have cerebral palsy. The most amazing part about the story is that Adams managed to forgive Rae Carruth and that was what helped her to give such complete devotion to a boy who, as time went on, looked more and more like the man who had her daughter killed.
Your theme was forgiveness … Sandra Adams’s example got me thinking about the different kinds of forgiveness. There’s one kind where someone does something to you and you know it’s not right and they know it’s not right and eventually they come apologize and ask you to forgive them and you say ok, and then everything’s better … mostly. But another kind came into play here. Carruth never took responsibility for what he had done, never apologized in any way, or acknowledged any of it, even though he was convicted. To me that’s almost in a whole other universe, forgiving someone like that, especially with such a great loss. This story gave me the chance to meditate on the two main kinds of forgiveness and how one is so much harder than the other. Sandra Adams, giving that much harder kind, freed herself in a way and managed to give her grandson the best life he could possibly have, given these circumstances.
What interested you in researching the death of a different kind of player, Darrent Williams? In 2007, a player for the Denver Broncos, Darrent Williams, was in the headlines because there had been a party at a nightclub in Denver: Shots were fired into Williams’s limousine, and he was killed. In the media reports afterwards it was easy to get a very simple impression of Darrent Williams, to come away saying he was behaving in a risky way, he was out with bad characters, he was flaunting his wealth, probably shouldn’t do that. The end. But I found a bunch of the guys who were with him in the limo that night, and they told me a story much more surprising and complicated than the initial one. I didn’t want just to believe what they told me so I ran this past the lead detective and prosecutor in the case.
What really happened? Darrent Williams wasn’t the aggressor that night. He hadn’t started the fight. He was in his limousine ready to leave. If he had left, we wouldn’t have heard about him. He would have gone on to have a successful career, would have just blended into the background. But he looked out the back window of his limo that night and saw a teammate who had caused some of the trouble, but was now in trouble with some gang members out there and needing help. He told his limo driver to stop. The limo driver stopped. Williams jumped out and went to go help his friend. Yeah, you could say Williams made bad decisions, and he did, but a big reason he died is because he was loyal to his friend. It was an inspiration to me to see lessons about courage and loyalty in places you don’t always expect.
One more story, a different one: Women’s softball players in Washington state. A girl came up to bat: She’d never hit a home run. She takes a swing and hits it over the fence. It’s this magical moment for her. She’s so excited that as she runs around the bases she misses first base, and her coach says, come back, come back, come back, Sarah! So she turns to come back and tears her ACL—hears this terrible popping sound and falls down in the dirt. Now all of a sudden nobody knows what to do. Her teammates want to help her, but they’re being told by her coach, don’t touch her, don’t touch her or she’ll be out.
The rules are you cannot help a teammate around the bases? Right, she’s got to do it herself. The umpires don’t know what to do. They’re confused. They look through the rulebook to see what rules apply here. They’re saying she won’t be able to score the run because she couldn’t cross home plate. Mallory Holtman, playing first base for the other team, asks the umpire: What if we carry her? The umpire says, I don’t know of any rule against that. So these two girls for the other team pick up this girl and carry her around the bases, helping her score a run that counts against them—and they’re ultimately eliminated from the playoffs.
And you wanted to know why Mallory Holtman wanted to help her opponent … Mallory said it was just the right thing to do: The hitter earned it, and we wanted to make sure she got what she had earned. I found out about Mallory’s background, about how much her two parents loved her and supported her, and how her coach had taught her that winning was not actually the most important thing: Playing the game right was.
Some of Thomas Lake’s articles are available for free at sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault.
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