On ‘American Ninja Warrior,’ a Familiar Name From Education

By Mark Walsh — August 12, 2015 2 min read
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I was watching one of my summer guilty pleasure TV shows this week—"American Ninja Warrior” on NBC—when I came across a name that rang a bell. A school bell, you might say.

“Warrior” is a physical competition in which contestants must traverse a challenging obstacle course using balance and strength. The obstacles include such things as the quintuple steps, the log grip, the devil steps, the warped wall, the salmon ladder, the floating monkey bars, and the invisible ladder. The obstacles vary somewhat from city to city preliminary rounds, and are more difficult by large degrees in the final rounds in Las Vegas.

Suffice to say that I never expected to have much of a reason to write about the show for Education and the Media. (Although a good number of the contestants are teachers.)

On Monday night’s Pittsburgh city finals, the hosts introduced contestant Sean Darling-Hammond of Washington, D.C.


Now, Darling-Hammond is a unique surname, I thought to myself. Could he be related to Linda Darling-Hammond, the famous Stanford University emeritus education professor?

The answer came soon enough in a short taped piece setting up Sean Darling-Hammond’s attempt.

“My parents made it their life’s work to try to make the world a better place, my mom through education, my father through business and law,” the son says in the piece, as a montage of photos of parents Linda and Allen Darling-Hammond appear.

Sean Darling-Hammond attended Harvard undergrad and law school at Berkeley, and he is now clerking for a federal judge in Washington, he says in the piece.

“Using law, I hope that I can expand educational opportunity by ensuring that every child has a constitutional right to a high-quality education,” he says.

“I want to be known as the giving Ninja,” he continues. “If I win, I plan to donate all one million dollars to organizations that expand educational opportunity.”

(Oh, I forgot to mention that the grand prize is $1 million for the first contestant to complete the super-challenging Mount Midoriyama course in the finals, something that no one has yet been able to do in six previous seasons of “American Ninja Warrior.”)

Cut from the taped piece back to the Pittsburgh course, and Linda and Allen Darling-Hammond are there to cheer on their son.

Spoiler alert: Sean performed well on the course, but was tripped up by the second-to-last obstacle, the doorknob arch. Still, his performance was good enough to allow him to advance to the Las Vegas finals.

So for now, the dream is alive to give that $1 million in prize money to education.

(NBC has some video highlights on its Web site, but unfortunately Darling-Hammond’s run isn’t featured. For anyone wanting to watch the episode on demand, his segment begins about 25 minutes into the the show.)

Photo: Sean Darling-Hammond, the son of Stanford University emeritus education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, competes on the NBC reality TV show “American Ninja Warrior.” (NBC photo)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

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