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To every professional athlete alive…

February 25, 2009

You don’t think you ‘should’ be a role model? You don’t think you ‘owe’ anything to anyone? You don’t think you ‘should’ or ‘have to’ give back?

Really?

Hey, pro, don’t want to be a role model? It’s not your choice.
by Rick Reilly

This is a story I want to tell ALL athletes who think that what they do, how they act, the little kindnesses they give or withhold from fans don’t matter.

It’ll take only a minute. …

To read the entire story, click here.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. BCC permalink
    February 25, 2009 1:55 pm

    I’m trying not to cry here. My dad died when I was six (30 years ago), so I know the feeling.

    Hey- and come to think of it, I grew up on the corner of 2 streets. The late, great Ned Martin lived on one, and Celtics coach K.C. Jones lived on the other for awhile- my sister used to babysit his kids. But I never got to hang out with Jim Rice or shoot hoops with Larry Bird- where was the love?

    I’m kidding, of course, but man, looking back, I seriously didn’t play my cards right. I think I better move to Medfield and try again…

  2. Rhayader permalink
    February 25, 2009 2:43 pm

    Wow, very well-done story (as is typical for Rick Reilly). Elway’s behavior is inspiring and commendable.

    That said though, something about this stance seems to encroach upon the privacy of athletes. A guy has a legal right to be a jerk, a womanizer, a heavy drinker, or whatever. Sure, he may alienate people by doing so, and that is on him. Still though, athletes are thrust into a highly public life without necessarily preferring that life. We should all be able to choose how we present ourselves and how we live, so long as we do not actively harm other people.

    This is just not true. It’s very clear loooong before you become a ‘professional’ athlete, that you are different, and that your life is different. I was not the superstar high school or college athlete by any stretch, but I played with and watched guys that were. Preferential treatment and being treated ‘special’ by teammates, schools, coaches, family, friends and just about everybody starts long before you ever step foot onto a professional field. You know that well ahead of time and you actively choose to enter into this life.

  3. Rhayader permalink
    February 25, 2009 3:12 pm

    Fair point Curt. Obviously you have a better perspective on this than anybody commenting on your blog, as you have been through this personally.

    Still though, I stand by what I said about privacy rights. A guy can be an unpopular jerk if he wants to (and, of course, we can dislike him, tell our kids not to like him, etc if we want to). At the end of the day, athletes are just people who are as likely to be flawed as any Joe Blow on the street corner, and I can’t justify holding that against them.

  4. Justin permalink
    February 25, 2009 3:42 pm

    It’s unfair to athletes to be considered role models. What you do, on or off the field, should have no impact.

    Sports is entertainment. I envy players who work hard at their trade and stay off the police blog/radar.

    The one role model I can think of in sports is Warrick Dunn. This man builds HOMES for the less fortunate families. That is inspiring.

  5. February 25, 2009 4:56 pm

    Where do you draw the line, though, on what actions do or don’t portray you in a good light? Is cheating on your girlfriend or wife considered taboo? Given how many players seemingly do it without any kind of retribution from teammates or the media, I’m guessing not. Is not being religious in the good or bad column? And what about drinking?

    I think it’s unfair to expect people to be perfect just because they become a professional athlete. Granted, all I ask of the players I support is that they aren’t any worse a person than I am. I’m far from perfect so it isn’t too much to ask. 🙂 But I don’t think it’s fair to point at players and demand that they be involved in more charities and acting more like role models. It’s just not in some people.

  6. G-Man permalink
    February 25, 2009 5:01 pm

    It may be considered unfair to athletes that they are considered role models. However, they know what they are getting in to – as you point out from experience. I am really tired of athletes who seem offended at this concept. A true professional (at any job) makes sure that the people who generate the money that pays their salary perceives them as a true professional. Sometimes, we all tend to forget that even though these guys are lucky and get to play baseball for a living, this is their professional life – their career. Like it or not, you provide a service of entertainment. Your clients are your fans.

    Ask some of the true professionals who have played for MLB…Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Mr. Schilling himself – they all will agree with those facts.

  7. Susan permalink
    February 25, 2009 5:37 pm

    Curt, when you were asked last summer to meet with 3 young boys who were attending a game at Fenway for the first time shortly after the loss of their father, you agreed instantly. The 10 minutes you spent with that family provided those boys (and not to mention the adults) with a memory of a lifetime. I saw them when they came out from meeting you and they were floating on air. With each Red Sox player who spoke with them and signed an autograph, their day became brighter and the smiles broader.
    It’s a 2 way street. Those boys were in awe meeting you but it has to make you feel very good to know you made them forget, for a little while, that the father who promised to take them to Fenway would never be able to do so.
    These boys don’t know your political views, you family situation, your hobbies or how you live your life off the field. They know you as the pitcher who helped bring two World Series trophies to Boston in their lifetime and who took a few minutes of his time to talk to them and sign some autographs.

  8. DJKuulA permalink
    February 25, 2009 6:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing that story.

    On the subject of athletes being treated differently, it’s probably tough for some of them to grow out of that. I used to tutor athletes at the U (that’s Miami for those of you still up North 🙂 ) and I saw a lot of different reactions from those 18- and 19-year-old kids who’d been put on pedestals, in some cases beginning in high school or even jr. high. For instance, there were college seniors who barely registered 7th-grade math skills simply because nobody had ever impressed on them that it’s important to learn. Some of them worked very hard on their academics, while others fit the devil-may-care stereotype. These kids were on their own in a way, since they didn’t have the same forces pushing them to mature that “the rest of us” experience. Not all of them handled that as well as we might hope.

    Which just makes guys like Elway (much as I, as a Pats die-hard, always hated him on the field) look even better.

  9. February 25, 2009 9:30 pm

    Professional athletes ARE role models whether or not they like it. Millions of kids throughout the world watch them perform with their gifts and it gives those kids something to dream about.

    I still remember a little known pro basketball player taking a very small amount of time out of his life to talk to a bunch of 12 year budding basketball dreamers, I can still remember how tall 7’0″ looked then and I still remember Henry Finkel and us Newport Bullets cheered for him louder than Bill Russell or any other Celtic at the time and I think as a result of that little 3-5 minutes that I became a Celtic fan for life. So a seemingly small thing done by a professional athlete can impact someone’s life forever.

    The story about John Elway puts him up quite a few notches in my opinion and your willingness to share it, say a lot about your character – good things.

    Thank you Curt for daring to be yourself.

    Harold Shaw

  10. Chris Duncan permalink
    February 25, 2009 10:52 pm

    I met John Elway in person in 1992 at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. Like some other people my brother and I waited outside the clubhouse in an attempt to get some autographs. Some people Mario Lemieux and Jim Palmer were cool and signed a few autographs on their way to their bus or cab. Some people Like Mark Rypien were just plain jerks and ignored or walked around any fans that approached them. Then there were the people like John Elway and Steve Bono who not only signed autographs for everyone who wanted one, they also hung around outside talking to people for quite some time. Seeing the way some athletes treated their fans that day really made me appreciate and cheer for the ones that went out of their way to make a fan’s day. John Elway really made a big impression on me that day and ever since then he has been my favorite football player. I still have my Elway signed hat I got that day, and I will always treasure it. To this day I still try to do a little autograph collecting and the players that take a minute or two to sign for fans earn a lot of my respect. I find myself rooting for those players from then on. I wonder if players realize a little of their time can have such a large impact on their fans.

  11. February 26, 2009 12:05 am

    As a poster before me points out, all athletes, really, anyone in the public eye, is a role model. But it is up to them if they are going to be a positive influence or a negative influence. The positive ones always seem to shine. We like them, we appreciate them. The negative ones, well, they just make headlines. And we all fear the youth will follow in their foot steps.

    Every time I read about the negative influence of an athlete, actor, politician, whomever, I like to believe that in a similar situation, I would behave better. I won’t claim to be a paragon of virtue. But when the light shines on me, I try to let my positive characteristics show through. I wish everyone would.

  12. February 26, 2009 12:55 am

    Good article. Obviously there are some really good guys playing professional ball and we all love to read their stories. Equally true, some athletes are embarrassing jerks.

    The successful professional player cannot avoid being a public figure; consequently, he is a model to his young, impressionable fans. What kind of model he will be is what he gets to choose.

  13. February 26, 2009 1:49 am

    So Curt… I’m not trying to play Devil’s advocate here, but I just thought I’d ask the question.

    Obviously you do charity work, have been a vocal member of the league for years and years, and (from what I’ve seen) are what some people would consider a pretty darn good role model. Is this the sort of thing you (or others) relish in? Do you try to dodge is or brush it off as “your duty as a pro athlete”? Basically, how do you deal with the added pressure of having to be someone almost bigger than life, as well as a pro athlete?

    -Nic
    http://wordstoplayby.wordpress.com

  14. Rhayader permalink
    February 26, 2009 9:42 am

    @Harold: I guess you’re right when you say athletes are role models whether they like it or not. But they are not all good role models, and are not required to be as part of their jobs.

    Should we admire people who act like John Elway did in this story? Of course we should; his actions were extremely thoughtful and generous. But I get tired of people railing on some athletes because they do things in their private lives that you may not want your kids doing (Michael Phelps is a great recent example). It’s up to you to raise your children; to expect every influence they encounter to be a positive one is unrealistic. If you don’t want your son to act like Barry Bonds or Charles Barkley, tell him so. Don’t sit around waiting for Barry or Charles to “see the light” and start raising your children the way you want them to be raised. That isn’t their job.

    So, while it’s great to read stories like the one Reilly wrote here, it is not fair to expect every athlete to act the same way simply by virtue of the fact that people are paying attention to him.

  15. February 26, 2009 1:30 pm

    Curt,

    Great story, very touching. The thing I think I would say is that it’s not just pro atheletes who can be role models and heroes to young children. I was just at a baseball clinic called Al & Al for our local Little League which we just adopted this year. The main theme of this clinic, to me, was how we as LL coaches affect the lives of these young children. How we can teach them about trust, honor, loyalty, teamwork, discipline, etc.. If you think about it, can you remember your English or Math teacher who taught you in 7th grade….now can you remember your little league coach(es)….more times than not, you’ll remember those people for the affect they had on you. Very cool stuff. Thanks for the link

  16. bill permalink
    February 26, 2009 1:46 pm

    many many years ago when bobby orr owned this town,my friends and i slept over night out side the boston garden hoping to get playoff tickets when they went on sale in the morning, we were so happy when we got 3rd balcony seats and could only see part of the ice. when we were in the old concorce later on our way home we ran into jerry chevers and derrick sanderson and they could not be nicer and signed autographs for us, then we ran into bill russell and don nelson and asked them for autographs,russell said sorry guys i dont sign autographs but he was cool,nelson looked at us like we were insects and said nothing,to this day i still hate don nelson and i am always to this day happy when he gets fired as a head coach 40 year later

  17. Chris permalink
    February 26, 2009 4:42 pm

    Great link Curt… I read somewhere a while ago that after a game you followed a drunk driver until the police caught up with him… is this true?

  18. kelly fredrickson permalink
    February 26, 2009 10:13 pm

    I love Rick Reilly.

    I’m always amazed when athletes think people aren’t paying attention.

    My husband and I went to a Braves game last Father’s Day and well before warm-ups the local T-Ball teams set up in the outfield as part of the regular tribute to youth sports in the Atlanta area. (BTW, if you’re ever having a bad day, I suggest you take in a T-Ball game. I swear to God you will laugh so hard you’ll pee your pants.)

    To see each of these 4-5-6 year olds come to the plate and do Nomar’s toe taps, or give Jeter’s “time” signal to the umpire, or lift the front leg before taking their swing like Tek, or stand there and admire making contact like Manny, point to the heavens when they cross the plate like so many…

    These kids are sponges; they see it all. And they remember.

  19. February 27, 2009 1:25 pm

    I absolutely agree — professional athletes are role models. Same with actors, entertainers, and just about anyone who is in the public eye.

    I think this story rings true not just with athletes but with everyone in life. You just never know how you will impact another person’s life. To show kindness, and generosity of your time and spirit can have a profound, life altering impact on someone else.

    So to be a celebrity or an athlete, adored by the masses – though it doesn’t require allowing your life to be exposed — it should always be in the back of their mind how their interactions and actions – impact other’s lives.

    Not just in the small things, as signing an autograph or saying hello; but also in the big picture of how they live life.

    Athletes & celebrities are not perfect creatures, because they are people first and foremost. Everyone makes mistakes – and we’re all entitled to them. At the same time though, there should be careful thought spent on the example they present. Not getting lost in the entitlement that being “famous” sometimes provides. I think it’s probably a struggle for many, but if it’s a conscious decision, it’s not a difficult thing to do.

    Thanks for sharing the story. 🙂

  20. queenmom13 permalink
    February 28, 2009 1:41 pm

    Thanks Curt, My children have had many positive interactions with pro athletes over the years. I teach underprivileged preschoolers and strongly feel that all adults must realize the impact they have on children. thanks for the story.

  21. Deb permalink
    February 28, 2009 7:38 pm

    This comming from you who less then 2 years ago at Shaws Market Fenway refused 2 little boys your autogragh because time was up. You did not stick around to see the disappointment on ones face and tears on the othe being consoled by his father. The bosses from Shaws could not believe what you had just done. What a great role model you were not that day Curt. Shame on you, you phony…….

    I only posted this because you’re a liar. I’ve never EVER refused a child an autograph. I may have not signed in very rare circumstances but if that was the case it was not because ‘time was up’ I can assure you. Because I’ve never ‘signed’ at Shaw’s, I’ve never signed anywhere in Boston in a paid appearance. If I was signing it was on the heels of doing an ALS event there and I was going to the ballpark and needed to be there at a specific time.

  22. Heinz 38 permalink
    March 1, 2009 3:56 am

    Please god give it a rest schill… you are the only pro athlete that calls into a local radio show on there own account… i think the royals need a SP… sign there.. have a blast…

  23. March 10, 2009 10:44 pm

    That is a great story…thanks for the link.

  24. Pattijor permalink
    March 18, 2009 10:06 pm

    Elway seems like a classy guy – not surprised. Good share. Thanks.

  25. BaseballinDC permalink
    March 25, 2009 9:00 am

    Curt,

    Thanks for posting this – great article. As you know, athletes are blessed with the ability to change lives in a way the rest of us generally aren’t.

    To waste that ability is nothing short of a sin.

    I don’t want to hear that people who have this ability have a right to be a “jerk” thereby wasting it. If they can play ball, its because they have a gift (one they nurtured through very hard work of course). From those who are given such gifts, we are right to demand that they deserve them.

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