This week’s edition of “Tate’s Take” is sports-related in a way, but it actually isn’t.

This column is about the friendships that I made during this past football season and what they mean to me as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.

Before I get to the point of this column, let me describe my personality. I’m a warm, quiet, gentle giant of a guy (I’m about 6-foot-3) who admittedly has been a bit shy over the years. It’s not because I don’t like being around crowds and socializing. I enjoy being out and about.

 I feel that I’ve been shy because of my speech disorder. I tend to have some trouble with my articulation. I have to sometimes think about what I want to say instead of letting it flow naturally. When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I got teased and picked on a lot because of my speech issues. Most people who didn’t know me would call me handicapped or retarded. Although I didn’t show it on the outside, it hurt me deeply.

But it also motivated me to overcome adversity. I took speech therapy to alleviate my stuttering issue. I also knew that the people that called me names were ignorant because if I truly was retarded, I wouldn’t have been on the Honor Roll and in the National Honor Society at Mendel Catholic/St. Martin de Porres High Schools. And I wouldn’t have graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in history. 

Yet what is still bothersome is the fact that there are many folks who hear me speak and still call me names. Not just kids, but adults. I work at the CTA as a train operator and whenever I have to break up a disturbance, the offender usually says things like, “You’re a goofy, retarded dummy!”

What I’m saying is that there are those who judge me by my speech instead of getting to know a person better. They’re missing out on making friends with a guy who’s got a heart of gold and strives to always do what’s right. 

I compare myself to former Chicago Bulls legend Bob Love. He was a great player that earned several accolades in his career. He had a stuttering problem. Once his NBA career ended, he worked as a dishwasher for some time. But he persevered and didn’t use his speech defect as a handicap. It’s only a handicap if you let it become one.

Love didn’t, and now he works in the Bulls front office as Director of Community Relations and as an ambassador for the team. And I don’t let my speech defect define me either.

That’s why I’m looking at the friendships I’ve made during the high school football season as gifts. They’re the best gifts I’ve gotten in a long time, more so than anything material. These are gifts from the heart. They’ve encouraged me, and they’re forever a part of my life. From the Scotts, Hunts, Molinas, Whites, and Borgdorffs at Oak Park and River Forest, to the Kellers, Lilligs, Kulhaneks, and Hendzels at Fenwick, I say thank you for accepting me and welcoming me into your lives. The fact that you saw a lot of good qualities in me despite my speech impediment means a lot to me. Being around you guys has made me a better and more confident man. I am sure that I’ll make more friends as I will try to attend events at both schools as often as possible.

My final take? As we get ready to celebrate the reason for the season, don’t judge a book by its cover; judge it on what’s inside. After all, none of us are perfect. If you do that at this time of year, you may just be giving someone the best present they’ve ever had.

Merry Christmas!

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