The morning after LeBron James announced that he was leaving Cleveland, parents began calling local pediatrician Shelly Senders’ office.
“I talked to a lot of people on the phone and in the office,” Senders said. “It was clear that a lot of people, especially children, were suff ering. Parents were saying, ‘His room is festooned with LeBron posters. What do we say? How do we explain this?’”
Senders had wrestled with those same questions the night before — as a parent. His 13-yearold son, Joey, is a basketball player and a huge fan of the Cavaliers, the team James left. About two months ago, Joey abruptly announced to his parents that he was quitting basketball but off ered no reason. After James said he was leaving, Senders wondered whether his son had tried to disengage from the game to protect himself from what he feared most: his hero’s departure.
Joey is at summer camp and unable to talk on the phone. So Senders sat down at his computer and wrote his son a letter.
“I think everybody has a right to leave,” Senders said. “But I wanted my son to understand what a real hero, what a real winner is.”
By Friday afternoon, Senders had decided to send the letter as an e-mail to 5,000 people, including the families in his practice.
“Dear Joey,” he wrote. “Well, by now you have heard that LeBron is going to Miami. I cannot tell you how angry and betrayed Mommy and I felt when we initially heard the announcement. We actually went walking around the block for about an hour, talking about what happened and why we felt so bad. … For a moment it made us feel like losers. If LeBron can reject you, then you must really be a loser.
“But, Joey, think how silly that sentence sounds. … Being rejected by a 25-year-old person who puts a basketball in the hoop for a living doesn’t make you any smaller or less important, and it certainly doesn’t make you a loser.”
You can read Senders’ entire letter by clicking on the “breaking news” icon at his website, http:// SendersPediatrics.com.
I excerpted his letter because I thought a lot of the adults who have weighed in on James’ departure might benefit from some advice intended for children. It’s time to be big-pants people.
Think about what Senders did:
He got angry. So he took a long walk. On that walk, he found his heart. By the time he returned home, he was in a diff erent place.
And that’s when he sat down to write the kind of letter he’d want his son to read.
What a fine alternative strategy for the few — the very few — who burned their No. 23 Cavs jerseys. (Note to national media: It was a stupid stunt for a video, not a crime wave. Could you please stop writing as if shirts were blazing all across Northeast Ohio?)
Speaking of flames, had Senders’ approach been more infectious than the vitriol, a lot of news websites and Facebook threads would have been less incendiary. I understand the disappointment and outrage — it’s hard to imagine how James could have handled this worse — but some of the things people were wishing on him made us sound like the Cleveland branch of the Corleones.
And how I wish Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert had pushed away from his computer and walked around the block one or 200 times before hitting “send” on his online diatribe. Whew. The NBA has fined him $100,000. Think of it as a grown-up version of the timeout chair.
One more thing.
Last week, The Associated Press described Cleveland fans as “humiliated and heartbroken.” Whoosh.
Almost immediately, those same words dominated headlines on stories, blogs and newscasts across the country.
Consider this a correction.
Hearts are breaking, to be sure. As Senders said, a lot of Cleveland is in the anger stage of grieving. We’ve got a ways to go before we get to acceptance.
But humiliated? Well, that only can happen with our consent.
So here’s my letter:
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer
Prize-winning columnist for The
Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an
essayist for Parade magazine.