It’s a character issue. Professional athletes especially in the NFL, are nothing more then a bunch of thugs. I’ve heard this characterization, I’m sure you have also. Perhaps it’s easy to believe this, given the headlines concerning Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson, Tank Williams, Cedric Wilson, Adam “Pacman” Jones and more. Of course, this is nothing new. We remember the drug issues with the Dallas Cowboys of the 90’s and the legal problems with the Cincinnati Bengals players. It’s not uncommon to see a bench clearing brawl in the MLB and NHL. The NBA isn’t immune from it either, after all, how many times was the brawl during Pacer-Pistons game replayed on ESPN and other sports shows?
Then of course, we have the South Carolina doctor who was arrested for giving athletes performance enhancement drugs, there’s the Mitchell Report and the infamous “spygate”. Okay, maybe spygate doesn’t need to be there, but it left questions to character. Even team cheerleaders aren’t exempt from it, given the incident in Florida by a few Panthers cheerleaders a few years ago.
Okay, let’s admit it. We love the sensationalism that these stories bring. Come on, how many slow down to get a glimpse of the nasty accident on the side of the road? Why did the slow speed car chase with O.J. Simpson make national news? Why was it replayed and reported on, over and over again. The media knows what brings in viewers and readers. They feed our desire for that “dirty laundry”. Let’s face it, all you have to do is look at the boards on Sportsline and see that some of the most popular threads are the ones that point out the human error.
I’m not saying we don’t follow the feel good stories. The relief effort and the volunteerism by numerous sports figures to those affected by Katrina. Watching the amazing progress that Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills has made since his injury. We pulled for the Saints to have, at least a good year, during their displacement after Katrina. Nothing new, Lou Gehrig won peoples heart when he disclosed he had ALS.
Yet, even these feel good stories tend to get pushed back into the recesses of our memories, or just dumped from it, because soon another story, another incident comes around and we’re eating up these misdeeds, twisting and turning them until we’ve worn them out, then just wait for the next one to come up. And as we’re feeding on them, we ask ourselves the stupid question of what happened to integrity? The thing is, that integrity is still out there and is more the rule then the exception. Yet we focus on the ill-begotten and miss the what goes on every day, outside of the spotlight.
I had often heard that there aren’t people like Roberto Clemente and Walter Peyton around anymore. People who care about others, who don’t have the “me me me” attitude. Interestingly enough, there are more individuals who are like that. Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphin’s is one of them. He’s this years recipient of the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award. Actually, the exception in professional sports is the thug like mentality and the rule are individuals who give back to their communities. And the sports “franchises” encourage this. Why else would the NFL present the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award or the MLB give out the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award? Yet it’s often just a small blurb in the news, perhaps buried somewhere on the back of a sports page that gets overlooked, more often in the community section. It’s only news when there’s an award attached to it. It doesn’t get much play time, unless, like after Katrina, there’s a national effort.
So why does it matter, why write about it? Well, it matters to me, after all, I’m not only a big one for activism, but also volunteerism. I guess where there’s a call or a need to help, I’m there. I quit counting how many March of Dimes walkathons I’ve been on. I’ve been a girl scout volunteer, not only as a troop leader but also cookie mom (don’t ask me how I got conned into that one) and recruiter for the girl scouts. I was at one time a certified Red Cross CPR instructor, then there’s the times I’ve acted as a “hugger” (had to be a hugger, nothing less would do) for the Special Olympics events. The weekend time at the orphanage in Korea, fundraising coordinator for the United Way, blood drive coordinator, organized a few Toys for Tots events, a toy drive for Katrina victims, and the list goes on. Oh and now that I’m in shape, will be walking in the local Walk for the Cure for Breast Cancer.
There’s little recognition that goes with volunteerism, and we do it, not for the recognition but for the ability to help others and how it makes us feel. So since it’s not done for recognition, why write about it? Perhaps to offset the negativity that is so often seen in the national media. Perhaps to remind us that integrity in sports on the field and off the field still exists. For this reason, I’ll be featuring a Wednesday blog extolling the virtues of past and present sports personalities and their charitable works and volunteerism. It deserves to come off the back pages, it deserves to be recognized. It’s not something new. The Fedex Air and Ground Awards gives contributions to the players favorite charities, as does other awards in sports. Of course, I am not in a financial position to give out large (or even small) checks to every charity or cause, but I am in the position to give my thank you to these individuals (even if they don’t read them). This is my thank you to them.
Next Week: A former Baltimore Raven and current Raven front office person and his struggles with ALS, a former Pittsburgh Steeler and his haven for abused and neglected boys, A former LA Laker and his efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.