Words so cruel are hardly ever spoken. To say something so direct would not only raise eyebrows, but it would appall anyone with half a heart. Yet this is the world of sports, and the world which high caliber athletes must live in as they pursue the highest attainable level of sport. This is the attitude that takes a first love, and distorts it into an endless pursuit of value and an identity more fragile than your grandmother's fancy China. These days, sports are nothing less than a business where the bottom line is the dollar. Whether you're pending trial for a heinous act, or recovering from a debilitating injury that you sustained on the field, no less, you are simply an investment and the only question that matters is, "Can you produce results?" The quality of your character is irrelevant. We, as fans, and your coaches, and the team owners care more about the impossible catches you can make and your impressive résumé of wins, than the kind of person you are off the field. Sure, you have a "great sponsor relationship" but when it comes down to it, when you're not worth what they're paying you anymore, they'll drop you like a hot coal.
You, as athletes know this and have adapted. Your daily life, from sun-up to sun-down, and often past both ends, now consists of a series of completely self-centered decisions. You can no longer afford to consider the well-being of others because you have to be the absolute best you can be if you want to keep your contract. After all, it is a contract, and when you stop meeting your end... well you know that there is a wealth of talented people vying for your spot. The sport you once loved because of the joy it brought you, has now enslaved you. Your primary motivator to win is now the fear of losing. Losing means you're worthless.
This is where Hope Sports steps in.
The world of athletics is the perfect breeding ground for a results-based identity. This is where you come to believe that your value as a person is completely dissociated from your mind, thoughts, and personality, and based completely on what you are able to do, especially in your respective sport. Ask any athlete if they are competitive, and you'll likely not only hear a resounding "yes" but also a list of examples proving it, or even a spontaneous challenge.
I have always considered myself a competitive person, but it wasn't until Hope Sports began to challenge the notion of a results-based identity that I realized how deeply ingrained into my personality was this idea of earning my value. I've come to see it in myself when friends compliment another friend on something I consider myself more able. I've seen it when people make well-meaning constructive criticisms, and I feel attacked and in jeopardy for some reason. I even saw it on my outreach in Mexico and Chile, when I realized I hadn't led anything for a while, and thought myself to be of no value to my team. Competition is great, but it is not life.
All of this goes to speak to why I am so excited to be a part of the Hope Sports organization. On my first trip to Tijuana, Mexico as an athlete, my mind was opened up to the possibility of tapping into a suppressed sense of value within myself. I was given the opportunity to step outside of myself, away from the routine of decisions based on how they would affect my training, and use my God-given abilities to touch the lives of a family in need of a helping hand. That weekend, my eyes were opened to the greater purpose of life.
It is this same revelation that I get to see in other athletes time and time again as they experience a service opportunity unlike any other. I enjoy seeing the comradery that forms between athletes that have never met, as they work side by side to build a home. I also enjoy seeing them recognize their level of privilege for being able to play a sport for a living, and live in extreme comfort in comparison to the hard-knock lives of the family they're building for. But, what I love most is sitting and listening to the heartfelt, raw emotion during debrief at the end of the weekend, as I get to see in the eyes of the athletes the same thing I first felt in November of 2014--that they are worth so much more than the things they can do on a field.
What I love most about Hope Sports is that it is an unexpected two-way ministry. Each weekend, athletes arrive excited to build a home and permanently change the lives of a family in desperate need. At the end of the weekend, however, while a family now has a home they could never have built for themselves, free of charge, it is the group of athletes that walks away feeling blessed. Through the weekend of service and the numerous talks from world class speakers with a heart to see athletes recognize the truth of their identity, the athletes are able to return to their sport and see it for what it is. Sport is an expression of what you can do, but it never defines who you are. The athletes have never previously met the family and will likely never meet again after parting ways. But by showing this family unconditional love, for no real merit of their own, I believe the athletes can finally see for the first time their own value and merit for unconditional love as a basic human right, instead of having to win it.
I have been fortunate to meet and work with Olympians and professional athletes over the past year, from football to diving, and cycling to bobsledders and more. I have been able to build alongside first-timers and athletes making an annual habit of the experience. My role has largely been in meeting needs as they arise, from tasks like folding t-shirts, to orientation meetings, to transportation and hospitality. Hope Sports is growing rapidly as athletes take hold of the movement. In its first couple years, groups of mostly cyclists came once a year. Last year alone, ten homes were built by athletes from an even wider array of sports. As the organization evolves, so will my role, and I am excited to see what the coming years will bring. If you'd be interested in helping support me in this cause, please visit my fundraising page: https://www.youcaring.com/shane-haga-530687
Through donating, you will be partnering with me to help more athletes enjoy this experience and expand the impact throughout Mexico.
I'll leave you all with one of the most touching and emotionally raw home builds from the past year. Professional cycling team Novo Nordisk made a home build part of their training camp. For those who do not know, this cycling team is composed completely of athletes with diabetes. They were able to come and build two homes for families impacted by diabetes, as well as provide numerous supplies and medical education on treatment. You'll see from the video the massive financial and emotional impact from a single weekend.
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