The rules for greatness are known by the champions of the world. Why are they champions? Because they follow the rules for GREATNESS!
When I was in college I roomed with Yoshi Takai who just happened to be the number two ranked gymnast in the world. After living with Yoshi for a couple of months, it was obvious that he was by far and away one of the greatest athletes I had ever come in contact with. Four decades later I can still say the same thing...Yoshi was strictly world class in every way. The guy was by far the most mental athlete I've ever known. He was always in control, even when defeat looked inevitable. In my opinion, not even the great Muhammad Ali could compare with Yoshi when it came to mind power. He was just that awesome.
Let me give you a prime example of what I am talking about. While working the high bar at the U.S. Gymnastics Federation National Championships in Los Angeles Yoshi literally ripped the palm of his right hand wide open. The injury was so severe that everyone thought he would have to withdraw from the competition. Yoshi didn't say a word. He threw his jacket over his shoulder, picked up his gym bag, and retreated to the locker room. One of the commentators for the Wide World of Sports followed him to get an interview. Once inside the locker room Yoshi sat down, opened up his gym bag, and removed a needle and thread. He then began to suture the tear on his hand. The commentator stood there watching with his mouth wide open.
"Doesn't that hurt?" The commentator asked. "That is raw flesh you are suturing...you need to get to a hospital."
Yoshi, smiling, answered, "No, it doesn't hurt."
"Well, how can it not hurt...it is raw flesh you are putting that needle through?" The commentator insisted.
My body serves my mind...my mind doesn't give in to my body. Yoshi retorted.
Why was Yoshi such a great champion? He followed a major rule for greatness...the body serves the mind! It's not the other way around. If you have a strong mind, your body will follow. A strong mind will create a strong body.
Jackie Robinson was not only one of the greatest athletes who ever lived he was one of the greatest men who ever walked the face of the earth. The former tribute can be confirmed by his accomplishments in both college and professional baseball. After starring athletically at Pasadena Junior College, he became the first man to letter in four sports at UCLA. He was an NCAA champion in the long jump, and a brilliant football, baseball and basketball player. Branch B. Rickey III whose grandfather integrated baseball with Robinson told me that if it wasn't for pure racism Robinson would have received All-American honors in all four sports that he played. After college he went on to play profession baseball at a world class level. He won the Rookie of the Year and two years later he was MVP. He was named to six consecutive All-star teams. His lifetime average was .311 and he was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
His greatest claim to celebrity though was integrating baseball. Branch told me that Robinson literally had to go again his natural instincts in order to break the color barrier. He told me that Robinson was a very forceful man who was totally outraged by racial intolerance and was quick to stand up for his rights and the rights of others. Case in point: while in the service he refused to sit in the back of the bus when ordered by his superior to do so and was court martialed for his courage to speak out against the discrimination. Eventually all charges were dismissed, and several months later, Robinson received an honorable discharge from the Army. "His nature was to face trials and tribulations head on", said Branch. "He was by natural instinct a man who was geared to fighting back rather than holding back."
Of course, Branch's grandfather wasn't looking for a man who would fight back to integrate baseball, but one who could restrain himself when subjected to racial intolerances and hatred that was sure to come.
A shorthand version of their historic conversation in August 1945 was as follows:
Rickey: "I know you're a good ballplayer. What I don't know is whether you have the guts."
Robinson: "Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"
Rickey, exploding: "Robinson, I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back."
That agreement between Robinson and Rickey would not only change the course of baseball for ever but also the course of the country. You have to understand that Robinson's debut in professional baseball on April 15, 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers came a year prior to President Harry Truman desegregating the military and seven years before the Supreme Court ruled desegregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
It certainly wasn't ease for Robinson. He was the target of racial epithets, of hate letters and death threats. Pitchers throw at his head and legs, and catchers spitting on his shoes. Through it all Robinson kept his agreement with Rickey and tolerated the near intolerable. He exercised extreme self-control responding to cruelty, brutality and racial injustice with non-responsive silence.
In 1997, baseball dedicated the season to Robinson on the 50th anniversary of his debut. How should we remember this grandson of a slave and son of a sharecropper? Perhaps by his own words, "A life is not important," he said, "except in the impact it has on other lives."
By his own standards, few individuals and perhaps no athlete, has impacted more lives than Robinson. While he didn't singlehandedly resolve the racial troubles in America he certainly contributed to the acceptance and tolerance of all races.
Why was Robinson such a great champion? He followed a major rule for greatness...he was a man who believed in himself and believed in the freedom and equality of others...a man who was willing to risk.
We don't live in a risk-free world. Everything worth having involves some type of risk. Granted, some things require greater risk than others, but generally speaking, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Look back through the annals of time, and you'll find that people who had the courage to take a chance, who faced their fears head on, were those who shaped history. The people who played it safe, who were afraid to take a chance...well...have you ever heard of them? If you're not willing to risk, you have nothing...no growth, no change, no freedom. And when that happens, you are no longer involved in living; for all practical purposes, you have no life...you're dead; you just don't know it.
The greatest risk in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live. Chained by his certitudes, he's a slave. He's forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.
So, RISK, for God's sake. Be a part of life.
Yours in Strength,