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NY Jet’s Dustin Keller and NY Giant’s Justin Tuck (photo) were the honored guests at tonight’s Annual Gridiron Gala, to help benefit New York City’s at-risk children and youth.

The Giants failed to make the playoffs last season after winning the Superbowl the year before, and starting the season 5-0. I asked Tuck if it was due to a lack of mental toughness among the players? He said “no, we just have to go out and work.” Regarding his own performance he said — “I’ve got some redeeming to do.”

Also on hand was former Jet great, Joe Klecko. I asked him what advice he gives his son, Dan, who plays in the NFL? He said that with all “the glitz and craziness, it’s important to keep centered.”

To be successful over time as a human being and as a society, it helps to have a good work ethic, maturity and mental toughness. That can be especially hard to find and maintain in professional sports today, when talented young people can make a lot of “fast money” in a sureal (at times) environment.

In defense of the players, the “sports business” can be brutal and highly depersonalizing, with players turned into gods and numbers at the same time — on and off the field.

As flawed as it is, professional sports is still a place where good things can happen, as was seen in the Saint’s recent Superbowl victory and the Giant’s win two years ago.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

The Villanova Wildcats Men’s Basketball Team was upset by Marquette today in the Big East Tournament, being played in New York City.

While sitting in Madison Square Garden watching the game, I couldn’t help but think of the Villanova Wildcat’s team of 25 years ago, defeating the Georgetown Hoyas for the National Championship.

That Villanova team had a “Rocky Balboa” work ethic and mindset. They played in a fieldhouse the size of a high school gym. Their coach Rollie Massimino, made pasta for the team, had ulcers and was passionate about his players winning on and off the court. And game tickets were affordable.

This Villanova Basketball program seems to have “gone Hollywood,” along with the rest of the Big East. The “sporting spirit” has given way to a soulless “business mindset,” with universities, coaches, and players more concerned about money and glory — than fundamentals and teamwork.

Whether it’s sports or business or any worthwhile undertaking in life, to be successful over time requires mental toughness, passion, discipline and a good work ethic. That’s not something people are being taught and/or putting into practice today, and it showed in the Garden. The “business” of college sports is hard to watch and expensive too. The above picture was taken, in the Loge Center section, where the price of tickets (from brokers) ranged from $900-$8,000, for Big East Tournament games.

After the game, I walked through the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and noticed that the Villanova basketball team was staying there. There was a reception and dinner planned for the team, in the Marco Polo dinning room.

Joe Girardi, Manager of the New York Yankees, being honored by the March of Dimes, as their Sportsman of the Year.

It’s easy to be cynical towards professional sports these days, given the way things are, with salaries, self-centered athletes and a “business” culture taking over the game.

But Joe Girardi is different. He is a “whole person,” on and off the field, a family man who understands the business of baseball but is also able to develop a team “organically” — by bringing out the best in his players.

After the Yankees won the World Series on Nov. 4, Girardi and his wife were driving home at 2:30 AM, when they spotted a motorist who had crashed her car into the median of the highway they were on. They stopped and helped the woman until an ambulance arrived. Later he was quoted as saying — “We can’t forget to be human beings and help each other out.”

When he received the award today, Girardi talked about a program the Yankees started during the season to help individuals and organizations — somewhat like Make-a-Wish. He said that on those days when the team or one of the players did something special for someone, the Yankees won.

I had a chance to ask Joe if he had spoken with Joe Torre since the World Series, he said: “we spoke about three weeks ago, he congratulated me. We had a good conversation.”

teamusa3With only 100 days to go before the Opening Ceremony of 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, a member of the U.S. ski team gave a demonstration at Rockefeller Center yesterday.

Back in 1859, John Stuart Mill wrote an essay, On Liberty, in which he said that people who are self-governed need to also be self-developing.

One way to interpret that is to say that we need to be fit to be free.

The Olympic movement has historically presented “moments and people” — who embody an “ideal yet real” way to be. Perhaps during this time of trouble in the U.S., the upcoming Olympics will offer Americans a chance to reflect on what is happening here, and to discover a more holistic way of living — one that restores trust among people and leads to a more sustainable society.

Photograph: Stephen Wise

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patsummitt2At last night’s, Women’s Sports Foundation’s annual salute to women in sports dinner, Pat Summitt was one of the honorees. Her 938 wins, with the “Lady Vols” of the University of Tennessee, make her the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history.

When asked about the “intagibles” that she tries to instill into her players, she said “chemistry” is most important — along with a good work ethic and unselfishness.

ginacarano1Gina Carano was also recognized at the dinner. She said that she was working on getting herself back together — “mind, body and soul,” after her MMA loss to Cristine “Cyborg” Santo in August.

We wish her well.

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