Cardinals star Fitzgerald speaks of unlikely friendship with Sen. McCain

  • Nick Celario

As I’ve come to understand, especially from a previous column I wrote, there are some people who believe sports and politics don’t mix.

But throughout history, perhaps more notably with recent events between the NFL and He Who Must Not Be Named (referencing Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort, of course), there are occasions in which it’s just unavoidable.

The paths between the two intertwine. Sometimes, for the better. Sometimes, for the worse.

This time, though, I’m happy to write about an instance that is for the better.

Services were held for Sen. John McCain on Thursday in Phoenix, who died Saturday at the age of 81 after battling brain cancer.

It was reported a crowd of about 3,500 gathered to honor the Republican senator, former presidential candidate and Vietnam War POW.

Among those who spoke during McCain’s service, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his longtime chief of staff Grant Woods, was Arizona Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

It was reported McCain was an avid follower of Arizona sports and became friends with many athletes in the area. It was also reported that former Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzales and former Arizona Coyotes forward Shane Doan served as pallbearers.

Fitzgerald spoke fondly of McCain, calling him an “authentic American hero.”

He spoke of their improbable friendship despite several differences. Humorously, he cited a few differences.

“I’m black, and he was white. I’m young. He wasn’t so young. He lived with physical limitations brought on by war. I’m a professional athlete,” Fitzgerald said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “He ran for president. I run out of bounds. He was the epitome of toughness, and I do everything I can to avoid contact. I have flowing locks, and well, he didn’t. How does this unlikely pair become friends? I’ve asked myself this same question.”

He then spoke of what bonded them together.

“He didn’t judge individuals based on the color of their skin, their gender, their backgrounds, their political affiliations or their bank accounts. He evaluated them on the merit of their character and the content of their hearts,” he said. “He judged them on the work they put in and the principles they lived by. It was this approach to humanity that made Sen. John McCain so respected by countless people around the world, including me.”

Through various stories I’ve read and videos I’ve watched, McCain was described as a political giant, a maverick in the Republican Party and will be remembered for his mixed bag of good and bad deeds throughout his career as a senator.

But among the things I’ve come across on the Interwebs was a resurfaced video from his presidential run in 2008 that went viral, in which he defended his opponent — then-Illinois senator and eventual president-elect Barack Obama — in front of constituents during a town hall meeting in Minnesota.

After a woman said she couldn’t trust Obama and called him an “Arab,” McCain abruptly took the mic from her and said, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And, that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not. Thank you.”

This was possibly the defining moment of which Fitzgerald talking about when he spoke of McCain.

It’s the kind of stuff the sports world and the political world can use more of, whether they are separate or one in the same depending on the subject matter.

It’s the kind of stuff that could benefit all of us.

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Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or ncelario@thegardenisland.com.

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