Why not? We, too, can name a “Person of the Year” (POY). But if we did, what would be the criteria? Who fits our agenda? What well-known person, involved in current events, supports a slant we wish to promote?
When I initially wrestled with today’s content, the slant became obvious… Who has offered and employed respect in situations where disrespect would have been easier? Who has maintained their passion and purpose without disrespecting someone else in their pursuit? What virtues have we witnessed?
Hence, in alphabetical order — if we made a selection — here’s our shortlist for 2019…
Tony Bennett…In 2018, this University of Virginia basketball coach’s team did the unthinkable. As the highest ranked team in the land, they stunningly lost to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the first round of the men’s NCAA tournament. At no time in the history of the 79 year old tournament had a #1 seed lost to a #16 seed. What was Bennett’s response? In his obvious, deep disappointment, he saw a beauty counter to one fallacy of current culture. “We’ll grow from the struggle,” Bennett said. He didn’t run from the pain. Instead, he turned the despair into an opportunity for hope. “Hills and Valleys” was a theme song — “You’re never alone in the hills or the valleys” — which provided perspective and helped propel Virginia to the championship title in 2019.
Simone Biles… No doubt the current best gymnast in the world — and arguably the best ever — Biles earned her 24th and 25th gold World Championship medals in October of this year. As she continues to prepare for next year’s summer Olympics in Tokyo, she’s at the top of her game. But when at the top of one’s game, one is often also a top target for criticism. Note that Biles’s passion — accompanying her personal athletic achievement — is to inspire young girls to become the best at what they do. For some of us, the encouragement of one gender often includes an oppression of the other. Not Biles. She remains a hopeful, humble, positive athlete, thereby encouraging us all.
George W. Bush…One angle that offers insight into the character of a politician is how they behave once out of office. Do we hear more from them? Less from them? Are they respectful of those who follow? I have appreciated that when this former President speaks, it is typically about his passion for helping wounded warriors get the help they need, his love for reading, baseball, or all things Texas.
Joe Burrow… Named last night the winner of the 2019 Heisman Trophy — awarded annually to college football’s most outstanding player — this 23 year old plays for Louisiana State University, and had what multiple college football analysts have called one of the greatest years ever for a college QB. And yet, until now, until his many tears last night, we’ve heard little from him. What’s that like? For someone to be the best, be in the weekly spotlight, still be confident, but spare the weekly boasts? How refreshing, no doubt.
Ellen DeGeneres…The Intramuralist absolutely loved when this talented comedian took in a Dallas Cowboys game with George W. Bush in October. She was ridiculed and mocked by many for having spent and even enjoyed her time with the former President, with whom politically, she has some varied views. DeGeneres did not let the criticism nor views detract her from what’s most important — loving and respecting someone different than you. (And a P.S. for this POY shortlister… are you watching Ellen’s “12 Days of Christmas Giveaways 2019”? Oh, my… the joy-filled tears have been flowing in our household…)
Eli Manning…Eli is an NFL quarterback. A future Hall-of-Famer, he’s actually been named the Super Bowl MVP once more than his more decorated, older brother. But this year, in the constant eyes and publicity of New York City, Manning was benched for a rookie QB, Daniel Jones. Not only was he benched for Jones, the way NFL depth charts work, Manning was tasked — if he chose to accept it — with teaching and mentoring both his protégé and thus replacement. I can only imagine all the emotion that comes with a demotion with all eyes upon you. And perhaps this is for one year only. But Manning hasn’t demanded attention on self; we don’t hear him complaining nor playing “poor me.” He has instead poured into Jones, helping him be even better.
Michelle Obama… The former First Lady has been busy in the year behind. Promoting her memoir and speaking at multiple public events, she has resisted the lure to insult those of different political standing. She has spoken much, especially recently, about her enduring friendship with George W. Bush, which began when her husband was inaugurated. “I personally, and I think so many of us, miss a time where people who have different opinions get along. And I yearn for that. I want my kids to realize that we live in a world when people think tons of different things and we treat everybody with respect and kindness.”
So if we actually did choose a “Person of the Year,” that person would be known for their respect, kindness, humility, selflessness, and grace. In a culture that so often honors and encourages the opposite, these timeless virtues remain good and right and true.