I sent him a note to tell him he was in my prayers, and he sent a kind message in reply.
ESPN.com's Johnette Howard thinks that the example he's set deserves more attention and emulation, and says so in an editorial:
...In addition to practical moves like beefing up USC's compliance department and appointing a senior-level liaison (read: watchdog) over the football program and trouble-magnet coach Lane Kiffin, Haden embarked right away on a listening tour with coaches and athletes throughout the USC program. He has said it sparked a lot of introspection about his own life as a student-athlete, and he's made a concerted effort to stress to current athletes how they should look beyond the baseline or goal line and ahead to the rest of their lives.
"I'm embarrassed I can't speak a second language fluently," Haden told the New York Times in the same story in which Nikias spoke. "I should have taken advantage more of this international population here. I wish I would have done some research in one of the labs here. I wish I would have tried out for a play. Isn't that the point of the college experience -- getting outside your comfort zone? So I'm definitely going to encourage it."
If you think about it, what Haden is encouraging, really, is a departure from how athletes are too often apart from the rest of the academy, a theme that critics of big-time college sports have been harping on for years. Beneath Haden's message is a sort of Renaissance-man twist, an exhortation to find a higher purpose. And consider the possible implications: Couldn't it follow that if you could change student-athletes' view of themselves, and their consciousness of how they fit into the bigger world around them, it might change their ethos too?
Would jocks still feel so entitled and special if they got out of their bubble a little more and got some contradictory evidence that they really ain't all that in the grand scheme of things? Might they not be more humbled when presented with flesh-and-blood proof that, yes, they may be the latest guys who arrived at USC able to juke a linebacker or throw a tight spiral, but compared to someone as accomplished as Haden -- who did all that and so much more, yet still talks with genuine humility about what's left to achieve -- there's still so much more to strive for? So much that makes a meaningful life? Is the secret to a better NCAA insisting on, not retreating from, the idea of building better people?
That's an idealistic approach, all right. And so what? What does the NCAA or scandal-weary college sports fans have to lose? Haden's tone is better than all these coaches and administrations who throw up their hands and just agree, "College sports is broken, all right."
Other people may give lip service to reform, but so far, anyway, Haden and Nikias are trying to live it at one of the most sports-addled behemoths on the college map. It's early, granted. But the way Haden handled the O'Neill situation even though the Trojans risked missing the NCAA tournament underscored that USC is serious. So why not nominate Haden for an even bigger stage?
Haden for NCAA President.