Earlier this week I found it difficult to be a fan of the NFL. Hours after reading through some of the disgusting details found in the Wells Report on the mistreatment of Jonathan Martin by Richie Incognito and some of his other Dolphins teammates, I then read about the even more disturbing allegations against former Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper. While everyone in this country should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the eerily similar accusations of rape by different women in different states paint a very dark picture of the former NFL safety. Reading these two stories in the same day gave me pause.
If these are the kind of men that make up the NFL, do I need to reevaluate devoting so much of my time to following this sport? As a husband, father, and teacher there are only so many hours in the day to go around, is my time watching, reading, and writing about football time well spent? I tried telling myself that my time spent is dedicated to what these men do on the field, not what they do off it, but that’s not enough to make me feel any better. The idea of committing my time and money to passionately follow men like Incognito and Sharper feels wrong and there was actually a 24 hour period where I was considering if I should take some time away from writing about the NFL.
While I was still stewing on this dark side of the NFL, I had the good fortune to read former NFL offensive lineman Mark Schlereth’s piece on the Martin/Incognito situation and the culture of the NFL for ESPN. If you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this post and read it right now. Really, go do it. I mean it. It’s 100% worth it. Reading that article snapped me out of my “NFL funk”. Richie Incognito and Darren Sharper aren’t the definition of an NFL player. They are just the headline grabbing minority that the media likes to focus on. In that regard the NFL is just like anything else. The attention given to the negative will always outweigh the attention given to the good. For every player like Incognito there are countless others like Schlereth that are stand up guys, day in and day out, but never get any press for it.
Now, as much as I would love to rant and rail against the main stream media for focusing on the negative stories and overlooking the good things that so many NFL players do, that would make me a hypocrite. I’ve written countless posts for Arrowhead Addict over the last several years and I don’t think I’ve even dedicated a single one to pointing out the good things that any of the Chiefs players do off the field.
That ends today.
At this point some of you may be ready to skip on to the next post here at AA to seek out information on free agency or draft prospects. I’m guilty of it too. I’ve often glanced right over articles at kcchiefs.com about the players visiting troops or local charities. So while I can’t hold it against you without again being a hypocrite if you do stop reading, my hope is that you’ll take a couple minutes to keep reading and hear about some of the truly good things that the players you cheer for do. Starting with……
While not highly publicized, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith founded and continues to run one of the most highly successful non-profit charity foundations in the country. As much as I recommended Mark Schlereth’s piece on the culture of the NFL, I would equally recommend this piece by Eric Branch at sfgate.com titled “Alex Smith Gave His All – Off The Field, Too” It breaks down not only what Smith’s foundation does, but his motivations for doing it. In case my endorsement isn’t enough, here’s the beginning of the piece to get your attention:
There is Marquis Blount, who grew up fatherless with a drug-addled mother.
And Sade Burrell, who went to elementary school dotted with bruises from beatings her mother delivered with a broomstick.
And Cece Hollis, who, at 16, called social services to escape from a mother who neglected and abused her and a younger sister.
And there are 20 other young men and women whose childhoods were ravaged by pain and abandonment. Former foster teens, they’re now college graduates thanks to Alex Smith and his foundation.
Basically, Smith started a foundation like so many other NFL players have, but Smith wanted to make sure that his foundation wasn’t “just another NFL player foundation”. His foundation helps foster kids attend college. The following quote is from a short Sam Mellinger piece on the same topic:
“I’ve been to so many deals with so many of my peers,” Smith says. “I hate to say it, but you go and it’s some tournament or big party or dinner, and you don’t even know what you’re raising money for. It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s for the kids.’ Thanks. But what are you doing?”
In other words, Alex Smith didn’t want to just throw some party and pass the money along to a charity and not ever know what came of it. Instead he funded his foundation with his own money and put his family to work making sure it really made a real tangible difference in the lives of those that he was able to meet through the foundation. He and his family actually get to know the kids in the program, it’s personal, and his success rate is through the roof. The results were so successful in fact, that others have studied his foundation to try and copy it’s methods. While his family has helped run the day to day operations, Smith is far from a silent partner. Also from the SFgate piece:
To lobby for changes to the child-welfare system, he has traveled to Washington, D.C., testified before a state Senate panel in Sacramento and co-written editorials. He’s spoken at national conferences in Tampa, Fla., and Kansas City to share the blueprint of his foundation, which has counted his sister, Abbey, and his mother as its unpaid executive directors.
Just like his football persona, Alex Smith isn’t flashy. He isn’t looking for the spotlight or to self promote. He sees a job that needs done and he is confident that he can be the guy to get that job done. A lot has been made of Smith’s efficiency at playing quarterback. It turns out that he’s even better at helping youth who have been lost in the system to turn their lives around than he is at not throwing interceptions. When he looks back at his life and career, I’m guessing it won’t be his ability to protect the football that he’ll take the most pride in.
That’s the kind of guy that I trust with a big contract. If Alex Smith does get a new contract from the Chiefs you can rest assured he won’t see it as a reason to take his foot off the gas pedal. It will just be more resources that he can contribute to helping those that weren’t blessed with the same upbringing that he was. KC fans may not all agree with Smith’s status as the Chiefs starting quarterback moving forward, but we should all agree that off the field Smith is all that you could ask for, and then some.
Eric Berry is probably my favorite Kansas City Chief. He’s incredibly talented, he plays hard on every single play, and is one of the most likable guys on the team. He’s the first player that I desperately wanted KC to draft that actually ended up being KC’s pick. As big of a fan as I was from the get go, it was when I read former Kansas City Star writer Kent Babb’s piece on Eric Berry the person, after his rookie season that he officially became my favorite player. While the piece is no longer available at the Star’s website, I found a reposting on the Charleston Daily Mail’s website. If you are still feeling at all down even after reading the Schlereth piece and about Smith’s foundation, this piece should do it. While on the surface the piece is about how the multi-millionaire still shops at the dollar store, Babb masterfully paints a picture of Berry the person that is much bigger than that. If you read that piece and don’t come away liking Eric Berry, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
However, Eric Berry’s character extends beyond just being likable and thrifty. A quick glance at his website shows his generosity with both his time and money. Eric Berry was drafted on April 22, 2010. He signed his contract on July 30th of that same year. Keep that in mind when you read the following from his website:
AFTER BEING DRAFTED BY THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS IN 2010, ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS THAT ERIC DID WAS TO PARTNER UP WITH ASTRO-TURF TO DONATE A TURF FOOTBALL FIELD TO THE CITY OF FAIRBURN’S YOUTH. THE FIELD WAS INSTALLED AT DUNCAN PARK (THE LOCAL PARK WHERE ERIC GREW UP PLAYING YOUTH FOOTBALL) JUST IN TIME FOR THE 2010 FOOTBALL SEASON.
So after being drafted in April and actually signing his contract at the end of July he still had a brand new turf field put in for the kids of his hometown by the time their football season started that fall. Again, this isn’t just an athlete raising some money because his agent told him it will look good. When you get something like that done just months after signing your very first contract it shows that it’s a top priority.
What may be most impressive about Berry’s dedication to helping kids is the amount of time he is willing to commit to the cause. Last season he hosted four different youth football camps between May 23rd and July 20th (two in the KC area and two back in his hometown of Fairburn, GA). Berry is also heavily involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, acting as a spokesman for the Greater Kansas City Chapter. Finally, before the start of this last school year he teamed with Ms. Missouri, Shannon Tajchman and Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to give away 500 backpacks filled with essential school supplies to Kansas City area youths that were in need, but Berry wasn’t content with just giving away materials. Also from his website:
ERIC IMPLEMENTED A PERSONAL GOAL SETTING SESSION BY HAVING EACH CHILD WRITE DOWN FIVE GOALS TO STRIVE AND REACH DURING THE UPCOMING SCHOOL YEAR. THE GOALS WERE DISCUSSED WITH THE FOUR HOSTS DURING THE ONE ON ONE TIME THEY SHARED WITH THE STUDENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES.
So not only did they give away supplies but took the time to meet with each student and discuss their goals for the upcoming school year. Once again Berry showed the commitment to dedicate his time for the sake of kids.
Alex Smith and Eric Berry are examples of the good that can come out of playing in the NFL. They are part of the reason that I am proud to write about the NFL. They are part of the reason that I am proud to call myself a Chiefs fan. Their stories deserve to be told every bit as much (if not more) than the despicable actions of men like Aaron Hernandez, Richie Incognito, and Darren Sharper.
So here’s my challenge to you, Addicts: If you’re a Chiefs fan that has ever commented on, tweeted about, or posted something on Facebook regarding something negative a player did I challenge you to take a few seconds of your day today to pass on something positive. It could be a link to this story. I’d love that, but this isn’t about getting my article page hits, it’s about making sure that positive information about NFL players reaches as many people as possible. So if you want to share a direct link to any of the stories I shared in this post, go ahead, but do SOMETHING to share the good. The NFL blogosphere is rampant with articles about the bad and I think it’s time that players like Alex Smith and Eric Berry got a little press for what they are doing to make this world a better place.
Also, if you have ever had an encounter with an NFL player where they went out of their way to be nice or generous, no matter how small, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. I can’t think of a better way to start the work week than with some of those stories.
Finally, to my fellow bloggers, this is my official challenge to you. During the next calendar year can you find time to do at least one positive post about what a player is doing in the community that isn’t getting a lot of press? I dug up two, but there is bound to be countless others with stories to tell and I for one, would love to hear about them.
To all of you that took the time to read this instead of skipping on to another post, my sincere thanks for indulging me on my quest to uncover what’s right with the Kansas City Chiefs. I hope you found it as uplifting to read as I did to write.
So, as always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Follow me on Twitter: @LyleGraversen