Inspiration can come in many forms. You can watch a mother and her child – and be inspired. You can watch a teacher in her classroom, imparting the wisdom of the ages – and be inspired. You can watch a construction worker pounding nails day after day – and be inspired. You can even watch a football game – and be inspired. A lot of things have inspired me. Among them: an injured Jim McMahon in 1984 against the Los Angeles Raiders, limping to the huddle with a lacerated kidney; a tackled Walter Payton forever reaching, straining over his head to score that precious extra inch on the field; a tireless, proud, and tough-as- nails Chicago Bears Coach Mike Ditka always demanding more and more from you than you thought possible – leading the team of legend, the Chicago Bears, to Super Bowl XX with style, grace, and courage. I got a chance to meet Mike Ditka recently and interviewed him for Sportsaholic. Ditka, who talked about the 2010 governor race, is as inspiring as ever. “I’m not a saint, but I know how to lead,” he said to me with conviction. “Politicians when they are elected, they are elected to serve the people, not themselves,” he said critically of today’s politicians. Indeed, leaders – not saints – are what America needs right now. We need leaders – whether ordinary or famous – to inspire us to good in the world , to be better, to get stronger, and to never give up. Inspiration is a funny, powerful thing.
However, some of my biggest inspirations have come from my political heroes; perhaps, even more so, because I have been afforded an amazing opportunity to meet some of them. Too many years ago to count, I studied baroque and renaissance art and architecture in Rome. I would jog past the
Colosseum every day, seeing the sun rise and set behind it, and think about the emperors of Rome and the brutal gladiator games thousands of years in the past. I’d walk through the Papal Gardens in Vatican City and be awed by its history. It was here, by happenstance – actually three times to be exact – I encountered Pope John Paul II. He was a Pope for the people and, though he would go on to do such great things, he had no air of importance or ego. When we met yet again, crossing paths as he was flanked by attendants, I
The People's Pope
could see the humor in his eyes that said: “What, you again, eh?” This was the man that helped bring down the Soviet Union and freed the people of the Communist bloc. Faith is a funny, powerful thing.
When I was working as a writer for a local newspaper, I also had the opportunity to meet Lech Walesa at Chicago’s Polish Embassy. He was the Polish electrician-turned-brash union organizer that stood up to the Kremlin.
From small things, great things often come...
From small things, great things often come. Poland’s revolution was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Soviet Union and set off a domino effect across Eastern Europe. There is something about finally meeting a man like Walesa – a man who changed history. By even shaking his hand, his seemed to impart some wisdom, some bravery, some stamina, some persistence of will and the understanding that freedom is worth it – no matter what the cost. To be free is a funny, powerful thing.
Working as a volunteer for the United Republican Fund, I also got to meet my other political heroes: Barry Goldwater and, of course, Ronald Reagan. I met President Reagan in the lobby of the Four Season Hotel and said to him, “Thank you for your service.” To which he replied, “Well,” and smiled in his
A Reagan for the ages...
naturally genuine comedic way. This was Barry Goldwater who made Republicans understand what it meant to be a conservative. This was Ronald Reagan, who laughed with us, inspired us, and made us – and America – love being a conservative. With a strength of heart now unknown in politics, Reagan went fearlessly head-to-head with Communism and beat back the Soviet Union, leaving only a broken wall in Berlin as a happy memorial to that oppressively evil empire. I will never forget Ronald Reagan and I will always cherish the United Republican Fund and people like Denis Healy others who used to make it possible for young conservatives to be involved in politics and meet the heroes who inspire them.
Passion and principles are funny, powerful things….aren’t they.
NOTE: If you would like to see my full Mike Ditka interview – its on Sportsaholic tonight on Comcast Sportsnet at 12:30 late night. Repeating on Sunday!