'Football junkie' is what's right in pro sports

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'Football junkie' is what's right in pro sports
The NFL offseason has officially arrived for every team. While most players use this time to travel or just take time off to spend with family, St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis has been at Rams Park almost every day.

He was there last week to greet new assistant head coach Dave McGinnis. He was one of two players - quarterback Sam Bradford being the other - to attend the introductory press conference last month for new head coach Jeff Fisher. Laurinaitis has met with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and, on Thursday, he strolled into the media room to grab a bottle of water out and chat with the three reporters who were there - Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tony Softli of 101 ESPN and me.

Aside from his genuine congeniality, which every member of the St. Louis media enjoys, what stood out to me Thursday was what Laurinaitis was carrying. He was toting around a 2011 New Orleans Saints defensive playbook. Why would Laurinaitis have that in his possession? Not because he's planning a move south. No. It's because Williams came to the Rams from New Orleans, where he was the Saints defensive coordinator for the past three seasons.

Most NFL players take this time of the year off, but not Laurinaitis. He's at Rams Park studying Williams' playbook to get a jump on 2012. Laurinaitis calls himself a football junkie and his love of the game is what stood out to McGinnis in their conversation. It's also very evident to anybody who talks football with Laurinaitis.

The former Ohio State star said a day after the Rams' season finale that he would take a few days off to "play an appropriate amount of hours of video games" before getting back to work. Assuming he followed through on that, the only other time Laurinaitis took off was to spend a few days last week with Bradford visiting troops in Kuwait.

Laurinaitis returned to St. Louis to get his football fix. Bradford went on to visit an old college buddy now living in Thailand. Laurinaitis' father, Joe, was Animal of the legendary pro wrestling tag team The Legion of Doom. Even with a celebrity dad, James' trip to Kuwait was the first time in his life he had been out of the United States.

Pro athletes often draw cynical ridicule for being overpaid and many of them are. Former NFL star Warren Sapp once said he gets paid a king's ransom to play a boy's game. He's right, but when you talk with James Laurinaitis, you don't think about how much money he's making. All you think about is what a pleasant conversation you are having. Laurinaitis is a selfless human being who uses his fame to assist various charities. He is what's right in pro sports.

Laurinaitis is planning another international trip soon. He wants to take his father to Lithuania, which is from where the Laurinaitis family has its roots. Joe Laurinaitis has never been to Lithuania and there's his son, yet again using his wealth to do something nice for somebody else.

Chances are, they won't be gone long. After about a week, James will be going through football withdrawals. A junkie needs his fix.
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