Commentary: A true hero remembered in the home of sports 'heroes'

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramFebruary 16, 2013 


Taya Kyle and her two children follow the casket of her husband Chris Kyle after the funeral at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Kyle was a highly decorated former Navy SEAL sniper who was shot and killed at a shooting range last week.

MAX FAULKNER — Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

The building was designed specifically as a stage for our "heroes" to play football, soccer or basketball, but not until Monday afternoon did Cowboys Stadium honor a person truly worthy of that description.

The memorial service for the murdered ex-Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was a sobering reminder of what valor, sacrifice, selflessness, toughness, loyalty, heroism and ultimately loss actually look like in a venue that hears those words because we don't have a thesaurus handy.

Sports and sports journalists (guilty as charged) often apply some of the same descriptions for jocks and games as those who spoke Monday about Chris Kyle.

Those who spoke, from a grade-school friend to an ex-SEAL teammate to the painful sadness delivered by his widowed wife, all struggled to find a way to describe a man who meant so much. Words were inadequate to describe Chris Kyle, either in his time under fire in Iraq or at home with his two young children.

It is not fair, but the words they used are often the same ones we use to describe a football player, or a basketball player.

What Kyle and his brothers and sisters in the military have done and continue to do is embody toughness while living in a state of vulnerability most of us, hopefully, will never have to know.

There is "sports tough", and there is "life tough."

Somehow, and this isn't his fault, using words such as "toughness" or "courage" to describe Tony Romo's ability to stand in the pocket doesn't quite seem right when put next to Kyle's willingness to stand his ground against incoming bullets, as he did in Fallujah.

Somehow, and this isn't their fault, the Cowboys' "tough loss" to the Saints in late December just doesn't quite feel right when watching Taya Kyle struggle to keep her composure in describing her tough loss.

Monday's painfully sad memorial is a swift-kick reminder that sports, while providing wonderful entertainment and invaluable life lessons, in the end are just a lot of fun. Not making the playoffs is a big deal, but it's not.

Sports should always have a place, but Monday reminded us it's not life and death.

Monday was a reminder that nothing that goes on as planned at Cowboys Stadium, or any other sports venue in the world, is ever truly heroic. Fighting for a touchdown is entertainment, sometimes with a tremendous price for the participant.

In the process of consuming football, basketball, baseball, hockey, racing, etc. and caring about them so much, we may indeed forget what we say all the time -- it's a bleeping game.

Athletes and coaches often use words such as "courage", "toughness" and "accountability" after a game; some of those descriptions may even apply, except no one dies at the end of Mavericks at Raptors.

This is not the coaches' or athletes' fault; their language has its own place.

If your arena is sport, then you have often heard of the many retired NFL players whose severe injuries suffered during their careers have led to a prolonged legal fight against the league for damages. There are sad cases of arthritis, depression and even suicide.

Then there is Monday.

On the same day the U.S. paid its respects to Kyle with a public service that drew an estimated 6,500 to 7,000 people, Esquire magazine published a long profile on the ex-SEAL team member who killed Osama bin Laden. The man who killed the terrorist behind the 9/11 attacks said he has no pension, health care or protection for his family.

Death often offers immediate perspective of what life is supposed to be about.

From the many photos displayed before the service began, it looked as if Kyle was a fan of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys.

According to a Navy SEAL who spoke about him, Kyle preferred to wear his Texas Longhorns cap rather than standard-issue gear during an assignment. According to the SEAL, Kyle wanted to let his enemies know he was from Texas and that he could shoot straight.

As a SEAL who experienced a high volume of combat missions, Kyle was in a position to consume sports for what they should be -- fun.

He knew a football field is not a battlefield.

He knew loyalty does not have an opt-out clause.

He knew that sacrifice could mean the end.

Chris Kyle is a reminder of what those words can mean, and what a hero really does.

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