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Newtown, Conn.: Why Kevin Durant's sneaker tribute matters

COMMENTARY — If you think writing “Newtown, CT” or “Sandy Hook” on a pair of sneakers is a nice but inconsequential gesture, you might want to check with the boys basketball coach in the town where 20 children and six adults were murdered last week.
by Jenni Carlson Published: December 19, 2012

Tim Tallcouch has never met Kevin Durant.

Probably never will.

Yet, he is grateful for the Thunder superstar.

That's because Tallcouch is from Newtown, Conn. He's the boys basketball coach at the high school there, and he saw the tribute that Durant paid his hurting town last Friday night.

Durant wrote “NEWTOWN, CT” on the shoes he wore for Oklahoma City's game only hours after the school shooting there.

“Believe me,” Tallcouch said, “it helps knowing that the world cares.”

What Durant did might seem small. What many athletes and teams have done to recognize Newtown or Sandy Hook Elementary might seem inconsequential amid the incomprehensible horror of last week's mass shooting.

But it is not.

With apologies to David Stern — the NBA commish said earlier this week that he believes these tributes are more about helping ourselves than helping victims — athletes have turned their shoes or their gloves or their helmets into moving memorials.

Sports figures paying tribute to non-sports-related events almost never used to happen. When President Kennedy and Dr. King were assassinated, not one professional team acknowledged the events with any sort of patch or decal or armband. Now, even when teams and leagues choose not to pay tribute to an event, players are taking matters into their own hands. They use their shoes, their gloves, their armbands.

These small pieces of real estate are where we often see athletes' personalities. We see it in their shoe style. We see it in their glove designs. And now, we see it in their tributes.

The Miami Heat wrote “Praying for families in CT” and “RIP to families in CT” on their shoes Saturday. The New England Patriots won black-ribbon logos on their helmets Sunday. Both the Giants and the Jets teams wore S.H.E.S. decals on their helmets.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz took things a little farther. Upon learning that Jack Pinto, one of the shooting's young victims, was a fan of his, Cruz wrote the 6-year-old's name all over his cleats and gloves.

“Jack Pinto, my hero,” one read.

“This one is for you,” another said.

Cruz then drove to Newtown and personally delivered the game-worn equipment to Jack's family.

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, whose father is a first responder, wrote the town's name on both of his game shoes Sunday.

Monday night, Titans running back Chris Johnson wrote the name of every child victim on his shoes. He then went out and scored on an awe-inspiring, franchise-record 94-yard touchdown run.

Often when a player wears a personalized item, the NFL fashion police crack down and tell him to remove it before kickoff.

No one forced Johnson to change.

Thank goodness.

With these tributes comes support.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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