ESPN’s Sage Steele and Our Foster Child

Until I sat in the Indiana University Memorial Stadium, I’d never heard of Sage Steele. Her name sounds like it belongs in a heavy metal band. When I learned she was the chosen speaker for the 2015 I.U. graduation I confess to rolling my eyes and thinking,  a sportscaster, come on, can’t we do better? As I sat listening with about 10,000 other family members, I looked down the row at our foster daughter who was on the edge of her concrete seat. Sage Steele gave us all a lesson in effective speaking to a LARGE group but she gave our twelve year old Liberian darling much more:

  1. Be vulnerable – She talked about how she almost flunked out of college, a fact not often shared. Her professors brought the problems to her attention and put people around her to get her though. It took five years, but she made it.
  2. Be gutsy and virtuous – Despite the fact that the I.U. rabbi managed to give the invocation without making it a prayer or even mentioning God, Ms. Steele offered a portion of the Cadet prayer from West Point to close out her speech.

O God, our Father…encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.

Her challenge to the I.U. graduates, choose the harder right along life’s path instead of the easier wrong.

  1. Inspire – When she was 12 years old, Ms. Steele told her parents she wanted to be a sportscaster. Her dad drilled her on sports facts, teams and trivia until she knew more than Bob Costas. Patiently working her way up the ladder from local Indiana basketball coverage to bigger arenas, her career moved forward. But, when the ESPN dream phone call came, she said, “No, thank you.” Pregnant with her first child, Ms. Steele chose to put family first and stay home. As she put it, she chose the “harder right instead of the easier wrong.” ESPN called again when her child was older and this time she was in a position to say, “yes.”

Our five foot tall foster daughter learned this semester that she can jump. Upon the encouragement of her gym teacher, she competed in her first track meet. In the long jump, she broke a ten year school record and flew 14’ 8”. She also came in first place in the high jump, and in gym class first place for the vertical jump, 25” without trying. Apparently there was only one student to challenge her with 23” and all she needed was an inch more to out jump her. The weekend she heard Sage Steele address the fulfillment of her dreams and her failures along the way, our little jumper told us, “I’m going to go to the Olympics in track and field someday.”

Thank you Sage Steele for helping a five foot Liberian girl believe in big dreams! Thank you for sharing your heart and having the guts to instruct us in things most people today are too afraid to say.

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