Last night I received a very harsh tweet from some person who took issue with my comment that I felt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers risk destroying their franchise by making Jameis Winston the face of it. We all know that Winston has proven he lacks maturity and has not handled fame well – in some ways like Johnny Manziel. We have seen major sports leagues prioritize winning over everything else, and are not concerned with slapping players on the wrist for criminal behavior that would likely terminate them from most other jobs. These are the players whose fans will buy jerseys for their children to wear proudly. It is dangerous to idolize professional athletes. However, sometimes we see these athletes demonstrate true leadership and welcome the fact that they are considered “role models.” Examples of positive role models include Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, and possibly Russell Wilson (too soon to tell but he shows promise, as does Marcus Mariota). But for those few gems out there, we see so many bad eggs whose off the field behavior makes front page news and oftentimes the police blotter. We must be careful who we let our children idolize or look up to. And they should look up to folks other than professional athletes.
There was a boy who played many sports but really liked baseball the best. When he was 12 years old, he attended a summer baseball camp. At the camp one day was a very special guest: baseball Hall of Famer Monte Irvin. Irvin was one of the first African Americans allowed to play in the major leagues. He played with Willie Mays on the San Francisco Giants and before that had a a heralded Negro League career with the Newark Eagles. He was a sensational hitter who was also a great ambassador for the sport.
At the camp, Monte Irvin watched the boys take batting practice. After this one boy took his swings at the plate, he hears Monte say, “son, come over here for a minute.” The boy walks over to Irvin and Monte says to him, “Son, I wanted to tell you that you have a great swing.” The boy is speechless. A hall of famer is telling him that he has a great swing. That was the day that the boy decided he wanted to not only learn about the Negro Leagues and Monte Irvin’s life, but also wanted to work as hard as he could to become a major league baseball player.
That boy was me.