I received some great posts in advance of this week’s #AskTingleTU column. Some of the more intriguing questions included: 1) my midseason thoughts on the college football playoffs, 2) could an NFL team survive in Montana, 3) would an NFL team thrive in San Antonio, and 4) whether the Spurs will repeat as NBA champions. While those are all great questions, especially the query about NFL in the Gold and Silver state, I’ve decided to go off script for this column.

You see, today is my grandma’s 93rd birthday. It’s not every day my Nana celebrates another year of life on the same day I have an article appear in the Trinitonian. So, today’s column is a tribute to the biggest sports nut I know, and the life lessons she’s imparted, as told through the lenses of star athletes.

1) Tommie Smith and John Carlos: Racial equality

On October 16, 1968, Smith and Carlos won Olympic Gold and Bronze in the 200 meter race and lifted their gloved fists in a human rights salute while on the medal podium. In terms of overt political engagement, Smith and Carlos are held as the standard by which all other athletes are measured.

Though I was born nearly five years after the 1968 games, I learned about those two brave men very early in life. My Nana, in her small way, was a champion of inclusion. In telling me her own stories, she made sure to share those of Smith and Carlos, Lew Alcindor, Muhammad Ali, and other athletes who disrupted the dominate discourse. Nana’s moment came when she stood up to the Ku Klux Klan. My uncle Danny played basketball at the University of Houston.  Since my family lived in South Houston, he would frequently invite teammates for a home-cooked meal and some time away from the dorms. It’s important to know that in the late 1960s many big schools in the South hadn’t yet integrated their athletic teams. Though UH’s athletic teams were racially integrated since 1964, the rest of Houston might not have been ready for African-Americans and Whites to interact off the court. Late one night, after Danny and his teammates headed back to campus, Nana received a call from a local Klansman, threatening to do harm to everyone at the house if another N***** visited. Ever defiant, Nana said that anybody that was a friend of her son’s was welcome to stop by for dinner anytime and “who sits down at my table is none of your business.” While the calls lasted for another week, Nana remained firm. As I listened to Nana recount this story on numerous occasions, I came to understand the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect.

2) Allen Iverson: Perseverance

Not only was Nana a HUGE fan of AI, even going so far as to say, “he gets a bum rap in the media,” but she, like Iverson, didn’t have “any quit.” Allen Iverson grew up very poor in Hampton, Virginia, and had, by all accounts, a troubled childhood. He let those humble beginnings be a crucible in which greatness was forged. Nana grew up in the heart of the Great Depression and quickly learned survival was dependent on the ability to overcome hardships.

Even today Nana remains a great role model. A few years ago, about a mile into a 5K road race she was running with my cousin, Nana fell and broke her arm. In a prime example of overconformity to the sport ethic, she winced her way through the pain and finished the race. While I don’t advocate for engaging in physical activity which might result in permanent damage, her finishing that race taught me a lot about resilience. Both AI and Nana could’ve given up, but instead they learned grit and fortitude. There is much to learn from struggling; another important lesson Nana passed along.

3) Alan Page: Education

Page is a member of the NFL Hall-of-Fame, played in four Super Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings, and was the lynchpin of the great “Purple People Eaters” defensive line. His most significant achievements, however, occurred off the field. In 1985, Page was appointed Assistant Attorney General of the State of Minnesota, and since 1992, he has been an Associate Supreme Court Justice in Minnesota. Like Page, Nana understood that valuable life lessons could be learned on the court or field, but they both also understood the value of a formal education.

She encouraged every one of her children and grandchildren to read and stayed on us about our grades. Indeed, no trip to Nana’s was complete without a conversation about my academic life: what classes I was taking, whether I was doing my homework, and discussions about my favorite element of each subject. My dad relays the story of the “Nana Rules.” Regarding sports and grades, she told her children, who passed it on to their children: “I’m not talking about passing grades. That’s the school’s business. If you don’t make A’s and B’s, you don’t play. That’s my rule, and if you don’t think I mean it, try me.” None of her kids tested her nor did any of her grandchildren.

The Nana stories could go on forever, but alas, I’ve reached my word count. Nana’s impact is far-reaching and I’ll forever love her for teaching me, through the lenses of sports, the importance of racial equality, perseverance, and education. Happy 93rd Nana!!!

As to those #AskTingleTU questions mentioned early in the column, 1) relax 2) what? 3) no 4) heck yes! Keep the story ideas coming; otherwise my next column will be about the greatness that is Tom Brady.