Hero and liar have become four-letter words thrown out far too often. In less than 48 hours USC football player Josh Shaw became both after making up a story of jumping off a second-floor balcony to save his seven-year-old nephew from drowning as a cover-up for something else that resulted in two high-ankle sprains.
From the moment media ran off with USC’s press release the story did not add up. Who, what, when, where, why and how. Those are essentials in information gathering that the USC public relations department and major media failed on. Who else was in the pool area? If Shaw was indeed there, couldn’t he have shouted to someone to save the child? Would it have made more sense for Shaw to sprint down the stairs to make such a rescue? At what hour would Shaw possibly be in Palmdale after attending a team function earlier in the evening? Shaw’s story crumbled predictably.
At worst, Manti Te’o used a fictitious girlfriend to launch a back story for his 2012 Heisman Trophy campaign. On multiple levels the Shaw saga is much worse.
I don’t want to talk about Josh Shaw. Instead I think it is better to reset the stories of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Joe Delaney and former University of Hawaii football player Shannon Smith.
A second-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1981, Joe Delaney earned NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after rushing for a then franchise-record 1,121 yards.
On June 29, 1983 Delaney appeared at a Louisiana amusement center for a sponsored autograph signing in conjunction with the opening of a water slide. The slide had become overcrowded on a sweltering afternoon, resulting in kids jumping into an excavation pit filled with dirty rainwater not intended for swimming. Much of the water hole could be waded, but included an unmarked deep end. Three children had ventured into the area and found themselves in trouble.
Despite not knowing how to swim himself, Delaney ventured into the deep end in an attempt to rescue the three youths. One made it to safely, Delaney and two others would later die at a local hospital.
The amusement park never reopened. A crowd of approximately 3,000 attended Delaney’s memorial service. Weeks later President Ronald Reagan presented his family with the Presidential Citizens Award. Delaney left behind a wife and three young daughters.
Fast-forward to 1997. Shannon Smith earned a scholarship with Hawaii and was also an avid skydiver who dreamed of jumping into Aloha Stadium before delivering the opening kickoff. One day he led a party of 11,including two teammates, head coach Fred vonAppen, his wife Thea and their six-year-old son Cody on a hike leading to a natural waterfall on the island of Kauai. Smith frequented the location many times as a youth and wanted to show it off.
Smith did not realize torrential rains in the days before the hike had turned the waterfall into a death trap resembling a toilet bowl. Smith and Cody vonAppen dove in and found themselves in trouble immediately. Coach vonAppen and his wife, jumped in to help and likewise encountered distress.
In the center of the whirlpool, Smith helped the coach and his wife reach safety while calmly coaching Cody out of trouble. By this point, Smith likely knew he would drown. After Cody got out, Smith’s head reportedly hit a rock and he was quickly sucked under. The entire ordeal lasted roughly two minutes. An hour and a half later, rescuers recovered Smith’s body. He died three days short of his 21st birthday.
“He could have swam to shore at any time,” vonAppen said. “I don’t know how he stayed up as long as he did. You can’t say enough about it.”
Cody vonAppen would later become a star prep quarterback in Hawaii and later played collegiately for Western Oregon University.
It is well worth the time to look up the stories of courage from two athletes who paid the ultimate price. As for Josh Shaw, karma beckons.