This year in sports has been a whirlwind of the strange, the touching, the outrageous and the unthinkable. This post will examine some of the best and worst character-related stories of 2014.
I’m committed to help eliminate the “Worst” list and lengthen the “Best” list.
Devon Still / Cincinnati Bengals
Child-support allegations notwithstanding (and not proven), Devon Still makes the “Best” list this year because of his unwavering dedication to the full recovery of his daughter Leah as she courageously defeats cancer. I recently wrote a post on how the fatherless generation is affecting the NCAA and the NFL, so Still’s commitment to his daughter is a ray of light.
The Bengals organization itself gets an atta’ boy for adding Still back to its practice squad roster after learning of Leah’s illness, which enabled Still to secure medical insurance to cover Leah’s treatment. Still worked his butt off and made the 22-man roster again, which says a lot about his level of character and respect for the second chance.
She’s won two national and two world all-around gymnastics titles. She’s 17 years old, 4’9 and arguably one of the most powerful athletes in the world right now. She walks into tumbling passes with the highest degree of difficulty. She does stuff off a balance beam most gymnasts (male or female) can’t do on a spring floor.
But best of all, she’s a good kid. She works hard in school. She has a great relationship with her parents. She’s humble, and she’s a team player (check out the .GIF in the above link of her hugging – and nearly tackling – injured teammate McKayla Maroney).
The man reinvents himself year after year on the football field (is he ever going to start aging?), and he keeps it classy off the field. He’s humble enough to make fun of himself, and he has managed to steer clear of character-related controversy his entire career.
Today, that’s saying a lot.
Yeah, I know. I’m an SEC guy giving a S/O to an ACC guy. But the credit is due, so I’m giving it up. Swinney wears his faith on his sleeve, has endured persecution because of it and refuses to back down. He’s a man of God, and he doesn’t care who knows it. In fact, before the start of the 2013 season (I know this is a 2014 list…bear with me), Swinney brought his entire team to my church in Greenville, SC. Now, my pastor, Ron Carpenter, is a huge Gamecocks fan, so the fact that the entire Clemson team and coaching staff was in the service was hilarious. The point though, is that Swinney wanted to start his and his team’s season off by positioning God first. He said a few words (which ended with a good-hearted “Go Tigers”), but that service wasn’t about him. It was about giving his players and coaching staff the opportunity to receive the free gift of God’s grace. Several players responded to my pastor’s altar call, and received that gift. After that service, Clemson beat my Georgia Bulldogs in the first game of the season.
I’ll be making a call to Mark Richt about attending Pastor Ron’s service before the start of the 2015 season.
Racism. Philandering. Elitism. Fined. Banned. Just want to point out that this hate-filled racism didn’t come from a Southerner. He’s from Chicago. Hate isn’t limited to the south of the Mississippi. People like Sterling make it hard to believe Jesus loves him. But He does. I have zero love for the dude. Jesus is still working on me.
He made the worst list because of the heinous act we all saw in the elevator. There’s no excuse for it, and I have a hard time believing that’s the first time it’s ever happened to a woman (or even that woman) in his life. But, the fact that he won his appeal is evidence that counseling and rehabilitation – not unemployment – is what this young man needs. I hope the NFL – and the people who have appointed themselves Rice’s mentors – respond appropriately and get him the help he needs to heal from whatever it is that led him to have it in him to physically harm his wife.
I’ve beaten this dead horse up in a few posts and on more than one show. His name has been officially cleared, but his reputation in the courts of public and NFL-insider opinion is definitely damaged. Winston’s 2014 season has been highlighted by several last-minute gridiron heroics, and lowlighted by the commentary of his critics. Unfortunately for Winston, among his critics are people who have a say in his future.
At the end of the day, Jameis Winston’s bad behavior has its enablers. From what I can see, many of them include the leadership at Florida State University who want a shot at winning two national championships in a row. The fact that Winston felt comfortable walking onto the field in full pads – even though he and everyone with a pulse knew he was suspended – speaks not only to Winston’s entitlement, but also to FSU’s leadership flaws. Fisher said Winston’s uniform and pads being placed in his locker was a “miscommunication” – which could easily beg an entirely different conversation about the levels of mediocrity that are tolerated within some of today’s top programs.
But seriously, does anyone think that would’ve happened if Nick Saban, Charlie Strong, Dabo Swinney or Gary Pinkel had a suspended starting QB with a media firestorm breathing down the program’s neck? C’mon.
Texas A&M Student Assistant
All I can say is he’s very fortunate none of the players he took cheap shots at retaliated. Not only would he have lost his job, he may have had to take a trip to the ER.
THE RED FLAGS
I originally had Peterson on the “Worst” list, but took him off because, as a man who was disciplined with switches (which I had to go get myself from my parents’ yard), I understand the mindset of parents who spank their children. I don’t understand excessive force. I do understand that sparing the rod spoils the child (take it up with God if you have a problem with it…that’s in the Bible). I am in no way harmed, scarred or suffering from being swatted on the tail when I got out of line as a child. I don’t hate my parents. I haven’t had to get counseling because of being spanked. I never had nightmares. What did happen as a result of being disciplined physically is that I grew up with a reverent respect for my parents, and I went out of my way (eventually) not to do the things that would result in me walking around the yard looking for a switch, while my four brothers laughed until their stomachs cramped (we all took turns enjoying those belly laughs at each others’ expense).
I believe Peterson did what was done to him, and what he was taught to do. I also believe he used excessive force and needs some Biblically based counseling on what disciplining a child should look like. Because this offense involved a child, the Vikings and the NFL had no choice but to act swiftly and severely. I get it. But, as is the case with Rice, the man has a right to earn a living.
Whichever team picks him up, they need to hire my wife to manage the PR challenges they’re going to have to endure.
Dude. Humble yourself. NFL really does mean “Not For Long”…even for spoiled kids who have never been told “no,” before.
Domestic Abuse “Awareness” Campaigns
Domestic abuse isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been going on since the beginning of time, and the offenders aren’t just athletes. Yes, athletes have additional social responsibilities given their public profiles. But, as my wife pointed out when she saw the first “No More” ad, if the NFL is really interested in making a difference with this age-old issue, get the wives of athletes involved. Where’s their voice in this movement? Why aren’t women the official spokespersons? Why not feature the rehabilitated abusers and recovered victims? The path of domestic abuse victims is as longer than anyone wants to think about, and it didn’t begin with Ray Rice.
A real victory with this campaign would be, not just raising “awareness” about it, but actually showing how offenders and victims can come out healed and whole on the other side of it.
If you’re going to stand for a cause, do it all the way.