It’s sad that some of the coverage around the sports landscape veers toward the sensational tabloid kind, when the biggest stories of the moment involve an NFL quarterback dating a porn star, or athletes being accused of drunk driving, false imprisonment, assault, or far worse.
We spend lots of time arguing about how the NFL could be so cold and callous as it relates to players with a conscience who choose to silently protest societal inequities and a criminal justice system that unfairly keeps its foot on the neck of people of color.
We pivot from there to argue about the concept of loyalty as it relates to NBA trades, free agency, or football players who put their brains on the line every week threatening to hold out from training camp due to contract demands.
And in doing so, we often miss some of the best stories that tend to get glanced over. One such example was the recent CBS Sports installment of “We Need To Talk”, which aired last week and featured athletes with disabilities.
Among these inspirational individuals to have their stories highlighted was swimming sensation Haven Shepherd.
When she was just a baby, Haven Shepherd lost both her legs when her parents attempted a family suicide by strapping explosives to their bodies. After being adopted, she’s blossomed into a gifted swimmer, with her sights set on the 2020 Paralympics. https://t.co/5i0l376EZN
Born in Vietnam, she was only 14 months old when her parents decided to use a bomb to commit a family suicide. Her parents perished, but Haven, who lost both of her legs below the knees, survived. But that didn’t stop her from accomplishing incredible things in the swimming pool.
At the age of 12, she was competing against and beating non-disabled kids. Now 15, she has her sights set on swimming for the 2020 U.S. Paralympic team in Tokyo.
Brad Snyder was once an explosive ordinance disposal officer in the Navy, a lieutenant responsible for guiding SEAL platoons he was attached to through southern Afghanistan’s dangerous maze. A blast from a handmade landmine on a humid morning in 2011 would instantaneously alter his life’s trajectory.
The blast ruptured his right eardrum and broke his right hand. Burns covered his right arm. Debris was embedded in his chest and arms. But most of the damage was done to his face. Doctors removed his left eye during surgery and very little of his right eye remained after the blast. He was blind.
Snyder was the former captain of the U.S. Naval Academy swim team. He was determined, upon returning home, to ease the pain, hurt and sadness of his loved ones by letting them know that blindness was not going to hold him back, that he was going to make a positive impact in the community and offer hope to others.
What does “inspirational” truly mean? Veteran and 5-time Paralympic gold medalist @BradSnyderUSA gives his thoughts on the word. https://t.co/SoCtJ08l3I
He’s gone on to become a five-time Paralympic gold medalist, a blind man that is now one of the world’s best swimmers.
Isaiah Pead was once an NFL running back. But the former University of Cincinnati star and second-round pick in the 2012 Draft had his left leg severed and badly damaged his right one in a November 2016 car accident that left him just moments away from death. Eight subsequent surgeries followed.
He told his story in a gripping piece for The Player’s Tribune earlier this summer. Pead had known nothing but football as a career, the NFL was all he’d dreamed about. And in an instant, it was gone.
But he had a newborn son and knew that he needed to find his purpose.
Former NFL running back @ipead is working towards the 2020 Paralympics as a sprinter, after having his leg amputated following a car accident. But, he’s always working to not let down everyone he’s inspired on his journey. https://t.co/jUXnfyKwAT
“I honestly think God had more of a plan for me,” Pead wrote. “So he wasnt just letting me know that my football dream was over. He wanted to create new dreams in my life. It was tough at the beginning. Every now and then I would see myself in the mirror, or catch my shadow on the pavement, and Id be like, ‘Damn, you really got one leg, bro.'”
“…Ive embraced the challenge. I feel like Ive been reborn. I still celebrate the day of the accident because its the day my life changed forever and for the better, I think. I mean, Ive spent almost every day for the last 18 months with my son. If I was still playing football still chasing that dream there no way I would have been able to do that. And that right there has been worth every little struggle.”
“But like I said, God has new dreams for me now. And I think one of those is to compete in the Paralympic Games.”
“When I played football, I played for me. It was what I wanted to do. It was my dream. And yeah, I want to compete in the Paralympics so that I can get back to being an athlete, because thats something I really want for myself. But I also feel like I have an obligation to compete so that I can inspire others to chase their dreams, and let them know that nothing can hold them back whether thats for my own son, for people who used to follow me when I was playing ball, or for a kid out there whos in a situation like mine and struggling to make sense of it. I believe I can be an example.”
“I asked God that day from my hospital bed to show me the meaning of this. I asked Him why this happened to me. Now, I believe Hes showing me. Im developing new dreams, new ambitions. Im seeing that theres life other than football, and Ive found it. Ive found a happy life.”
After playing in the NFL, @ipead suffered a career-ending injury when he lost his leg in a serious car accident. He details his journey following the injury. https://t.co/RTyYdCShLA
In a sports and larger culture that often gets caught up in the worst of humanity, learning about Shepherd, Snyder and Pead’s stories are a reminder that, despite life’s difficulties and hardships, we all need to take a good look around and do a better job of appreciating the true inspirational tales out there.
In doing so, we can embrace our unique differences and find inspiration in those thriving despite their challenges, whose stories can push us away from wherever we’re stuck and begin thinking about making an impact on others while living our own lives to the fullest.
“We Need To Talk” airs monthly on CBS Sports Network. Catch the next episode August 14th at 7PM, ET on CBSSN.