Canzano: There’s always something to see with sports
Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
I dialed up Jeff Cato on Friday morning. He’s an engineer and a huge sports fan. He also happens to have been born without an optic nerve.
“I can see shadows, and light and dark, but nothing useful,” he told me.
Cato, 53, is blind. It didn’t stop him from becoming a power lifter and playing center on his high school football team. He learned to weld and sky dive, too. And recently, he began taking flying lessons alongside an instructor.
Said Cato: “Just tell me I can’t do it and I will.”
I’m not writing about Cato today because he suits up for an NBA team. He doesn’t. I’m not introducing him to you because he’s involved in the Pac-12 Conference media rights. Because he’s not. I’m telling you about Jeff Cato because the weekend is coming and we could all use a little lift.
Cato’s accomplishments are nothing short of remarkable. Sports were a savior to the guy. He played them relentlessly growing up and it kept him connected to his peers. He’s a die-hard fan of the Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Dodgers and Trail Blazers. He also loves Pac-12 football, particularly the Oregon Ducks.
Raiders missed the NFL playoffs? Blazers in a tailspin?
Nothing to see this season?
As a kid in the 1970s, he used to drop in on the Blazers’ practices at Mittleman Jewish Community Center. He’d sit quietly, listening to the squeak of high-top sneakers on the gym floor and the voice of former coach Dr. Jack Ramsay yelling at Bobby Gross.
“He was always yelling at Bobby,” Cato said.
Cato has made a good life for himself. His job includes helping a well-known health-care company make sure its website is accessible to sight impaired users. He keeps busy with hobbies, friends, and follows his sports teams.
“I love being in the stadium, but you don’t always get the full picture,” he said. “I invested in a really good surround sound and the beer is cheaper at my house.”
I don’t know if your college football team won its bowl game. I don’t know if the early recruiting signing period was a success or failure. I can’t be sure if your NBA team is going to make the playoffs. But I can tell you that the lifeblood of sports is fans like Cato, who are there for it all — no matter what.
Life isn’t always easy for Jeff Cato. In high school, the crowd noise at varsity football games got so loud he could no longer hear what was happening around him on the field. And his stepfather’s words could sometimes be cruel.
“You’re never going to have a real job,” that stepdad told Cato when he was just a boy.
“You’re not going to amount to anything.”
Jeff Cato waved it off and turned out just fine. He made friends. He dated. He played H-O-R-S-E on a hoop in the driveway with neighborhood kids. Cato suited up in football and won his weight class in a regional powerlifting contest as a teenager, too.
“As a kid,” he told me on Friday, “anything you can do to build confidence is good.”
Our sports world is more complicated than ever these days. The stakes feel big most days. But I’m reminded at a time like this of the power of sport. It was Jim Thorpe who once said he only played sports or ran races “for the fun of the thing.”
Cato is in it for the fun, too.
Maybe you’ve had a hard week. Maybe some things didn’t go your way. Consider the challenges Jeff Cato has overcome. After a while on the phone, he apologized for being so busy and told me he needed to get going.
There was a job — and a life — waiting.
Ones that Cato made for himself.
Read more of columnist John Canzano exclusively at JohnCanzano.com.
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