He meant this figurative acrobatic to mean he was able to develop his intellectual pursuits by understanding the research and works created by notable thinkers of the past. Since Newton is considered one of the greatest scientists that ever lived, he must have been doing something right. His way of saying that was easier.
Newton didn’t claim to be original. The expression has been traced back to the 12th Century, and even exists in Latin: “Nani gigantum humeris insidentes.” I like that. One day when I am famous, I may want a tattoo.
The giants whose shoulders I have tried to scale are men whose books I have accumulated into my library. One is “The Ultimate Athlete,” by George Leonard. Published in 1974, and subtitled “Re-visioning Sports, Physical Education and the Body,” I have read and annotated the book to the point of disintegration. From his shoulders I can see much farther, and the timing is appropriate.
George Burr Leonard really was a giant of sorts. He was six feet four inches tall, and described as having “piercing blue eyes and a booming voice.” During his lifetime, he was a teacher, a writer and a leading spiritual theorist who dedicated his energies to improving education and human potential, especially in the fields of sports and physical education.
Leonard died in January of 2010 at the age of 86, but his ideas endure. “The Ultimate Athlete” aims directly at what Leonard saw as a tragic split of the physical and the spiritual in the way that too many of our young people view sports. He was harshly critical of what he called “professionalism,’ the influence of coaches like Vince Lombardi, who proclaimed, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
“Under these circumstances,” Leonard wrote, “it’s no wonder that the attempt to cheat has become so pervasive in the sports we watch on television that we hardly give it a thought. When winning is the only thing (his emphasis), it’s natural enough that players will do anything they can get away with in order to score.”
The overall result, according to Leonard, is a split between the physical and the spiritual, in which athletes and intellectuals live in different worlds, the athletes becoming insensitive and authoritarian, the intellectuals becoming like disembodied brains. In neither case are we utilizing our potential as complete humans, and that is an incalculable loss to mankind. The rest of Leonard’s book is about how we need to change our institutions and ourselves.
I believe Leonard is right. The misfortune becoming known as Bountygate that has beset the New Orleans Saints with fines, suspensions and some outright firings didn’t have to happen. But it did, and from the shoulders of this giant I can see how, if we rethink the way that games, sports, and physical conditioning can be returned to their rightful place in all of our lives, all of us will be the better for it. The view up here is breathtaking.