Tiger's infidelity...Serena Williams nails a record fine for threatening to nail a U.S Open lineswoman... The Florida Panthers' Keith Ballard takes out his teammate, goalie Tomas Vokoun, with a tomahawk chop to the head... So this is what we watch and who we want our athletes to be?
Luckily the world of sports still provides us with action and a serious dose of role models, although sometimes we have to look a little harder and dig a little deeper than we should. For every Serena tirade we had her sister Venus being honored first by the March of Dimes for her work with children and then with the Jefferson Awards for Public Service for more philanthropic work. For every Chad Ochocinco outburst we have the New York Giants' Justin Tuck and his Rush For Literacy program that benefits needy kids with literally thousands of books and programs to promote reading year-round. For every self-indulgent indiscretion that surfaces for the world's greatest golfer, we have Derek Jeter, using his style and grace as a team captain for the New York Yankees and grabbing the Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year award.
For every embarrassing YouTube clip we see of a women's soccer player pulling another down by her hair, we have a pioneer like Nancy Lieberman (who next year will become the first woman to coach a men's team, in the NBA D-League) being rewarded with the "Bill Walsh Champion of Change" Award for all her endless devotion to athletic and social achievement by the group "All Stars Helping Kids."
Then we have those who not only find ways to use their star power selflessly, but will also go to extreme physical lengths to do so. One great example discovered this week while assisting with a Frito-lay campaign involves the USO, Tostitos, and a group of former NFL players and coaches, who will take a long holiday season trip to give something special back to those serving in the Armed Forces. The plan for the group, which includes Rocket Ismail, Joe Washington, Ty Detmer, Tony Casillas and others, is to take a page from the "Bob Hope Road Show of the '60's and '70's and work with the USO to head to the Persian Gulf around the holidays and entertain the troops by watching some great Bowl Games (perhaps even the one in Arizona that Tostitos titles) and play some flag football with the those serving abroad. For Tostitos, it is a great way to extend their brand at a time of year when people are in a holiday mood and are thinking college football. For the USO, it presents a great give-back to a group far from home at a tough time of year (in a region that is continuously losing focus as America shifts its efforts to Afghanistan). So what do the players get out of it? Sand and chips and the chance to mix it up with well trained, athletic young men who would probably love a shot at a gridiron star? Actually it's not what they get... it what they give.
The give is a great example of the selfless lives many athletes lead both in and out of the spotlight. It is a continued use of the gifts bestowed... fame, fortune, celebrity... to positively influence a life. Some do it through local charity work, some influence care with children, some right anonymous checks to hospitals or institutes of higher learning, some spend thousands of dollars and hours of their time taking care of family. Some simply go across the world to play some ball and watch some football. No matter what the reason, the end for them justifies the means.
So as we enter the holiday season and follow the seemingly endless path to brand destruction Tiger Woods may be on, or blanch at the end zone antics of a young wide receiver take pause and look a little harder for some of the good out there being done by these gifted athletes. It may not be as sexy to follow and discuss at the watercooler, but whether it is in the Persian Gulf or the neighborhood playground, it can be just as compelling.