Yesterday, Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter had the tears of Wake Forest fans and sports fans flowing.
In an incredibly heartwarming story, Walter told the press of his selfless decision to help one of his former players. Kevin Jordan, a star outfielder for the Demon Deacons who has yet to play for Walter, had received a kidney from his coach.
The sports world is overcome with individuals who are involved in these acts of kindness, charities and the like, but Walter's actions are in a league all their own. It truly had me thinking about athletes, coaches and how good they all have it.
Walter didn't have to give up his kidney, but he chose to because as he said in a conference call last week,"I wanted to help this young man. When we recruit our guys, we talk about family and making sacrifices for one another. It's something we take very seriously."
That being said, Walter has put himself in the league of sportsmen who shine a little brighter than the others because of their hearts. Here are eight people, including Walter, who deserve some attention because of what they give back.
For years, Cal Ripken, Jr. was a star player for the Baltimore Orioles. He hit well for average, had great power and was slick with the glove.
However, Ripken was also the iron man of baseball in his prime, playing in a record 2,632 consecutive games. This far surpasses the record first held by Lou Gehrig, who played in 2,130 straight games.
That being said, it is only fitting that Ripken be active in charities hoping to further the research of Lou Gehrig's Disease. On top of that, he is also involved in his late father's charity, the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation.
The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation reaches out to underprivileged children, providing them the opportunity to attend baseball camps and clinics around the nation. In being involved with these organizations and causes, Cal Ripken Jr. becomes not only one of the greatest baseball players ever, but one of the finest individuals to walk the earth.
When he first burst onto the NHL scene for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984, Mario Lemieux was considered to be the next truly great player (besides one Wayne Gretzky). He was a top goal scorer and team player, winning his first of three Hart Trophies in 1988.
He won back to back Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992. Then, life threw him a curveball.
In 1993, Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkins' lymphoma, a type of cancer. Shortly afterwards, he started the Mario Lemieux Foundation.
The Mario Lemieux Foundation has a simple purpose, to fund medical research projects. On top of that, Lemieux makes donations to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the Leukemia Society. Cancer research is a cause that obviously means a lot to Lemieux and being one of the classiest men in sports, it's only fitting that he choose it as his charity.
Besides being considered one of basketball's best centers and one of the nicest people to ever play in the NBA, David Robinson has won people's hearts with his contributions to education.
In 2001, Robinson and his wife founded the Carver Academy in San Antonio, Texas. The non-profit private school has opened its doors to children from all backgrounds, rich and poor. In doing so, Robinson has met his goal to provide "a socio-economically and culturally diverse student population, grades pre-kindergarten through sixth."
To this day, Robinson's contributions to the school surpass $11 million. In recognition for his actions, the NBA renamed its charitable efforts award after him. Today, the winner of the NBA Community Assist Award receives the "David Robinson Plaque." That is just a small accomplishment for a man who has already done so much in his life, on and off the hardwood.
Joe Torre has done a lot in his career. He was one of the best hitters of his generation, and he secured his spot in Cooperstown during his 12 seasons as manager of the New York Yankees. Despite his success, the road there wasn't easy.
As a child growing up in Brooklyn, Torre was a witness and victim to domestic violence at the hands of his father. During his time with the Yankees, he created the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation. The foundation currently operates domestic violence centers in and around New York City and Westchester County, New York.
Torre was so devoted to this cause that he took it onto the baseball field. I remember one season, I think 2006, when the Yankees donated $1,000 to the foundation for every home run hit at Yankee Stadium.
If only Torre was the manager in 2009!
Still, all humor aside, the now-retired Torre was just as devoted to this foundation as he was to his job. He came off as the ultimate family man, so it's only right that his charity be one that provides safe environments for families.
Besides being possibly the best player in the history of the NBA, Michael Jordan has been an active member of charities throughout most of his career. He has been a consistent contributor to organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House.
In 2007, Jordan teamed up with fellow athletes, including Mario Lemieux and Cal Ripken, Jr., in the establishment of Athletes For Hope. This organization helps professional athletes get involved in charities as well as call for everyday people to get involved in causes that mean a lot to them.
With his charisma and genuine devotion to his charitable causes, Jordan makes the top five on this list.
Shortly after retiring as a player in 2003, Adam Graves took a front office job with the New York Rangers. His exact title is "Special Assistant with Prospect Development and Community Relations." Given all the charitable work he has done, that position is perfect for him.
Graves has been very active in the Rangers' Garden of Dreams Foundation. The foundation doesn't really focus on one cause, but rather multiple ones. One event may be a gala to raise money for pediatric cancer research, while another might be a toy drive for a community center in an underprivileged neighborhood.
Having been to a number of Garden of Dreams events, I can safely say that Graves is truly passionate about his work in the field. He makes a point to shake everyone's hand and thank them for coming, always has time to take a picture and is never without a smile.
Besides his work with the foundation, he makes regular visits to the pediatric ward of the Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Graves' actions give him not only the heart of a charitable man, but also the heart of a true champion.
Peyton Manning is a special case when it comes to sportsmen active in charities. He is involved in many causes, his most notable one being the Peyback Foundation. Focusing its efforts in Louisiana, Tennessee and Indiana, Peyback's mission is to make life better for underprivileged children. Yet, that is just a small part of Manning's work.
In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf area, Manning and his brother Eli were instrumental in getting supplies to the people of New Orleans. Thanks to their efforts, over 30,000 pounds of supplies were delivered to people either homeless or left with nothing in wake of the catastrophe.
Manning is also active in working with St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. In 2007, the hospital renamed it's children's wing "Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent." As was evidenced with Graves, Manning's charitable heart makes him a true champion.
In the prime of his career, Alonzo Mourning was one of the most dominant big men in the NBA. He could score points, rebound the ball and was a devastating shot blocker.
Yet, that was all in jeopardy when he was diagnosed with focal glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), a life threatening kidney disease, in 2000.
After extensive treatment, he went on to play six more seasons in the NBA, undergoing a kidney transplant in 2003. Since his diagnosis, Mourning has launched Zo's Fund For Life. The organization takes in funds and donates them towards research for a cure for FSGS, as well as to people with the disease who are unable to afford treatment or medication.
Besides that, Mourning is also active in his other organization, Alonzo Mourning Charities, Inc. This foundation focuses more on families living in at-risk situations, providing them support as well as opportunities for the children of said families.
His charitable work, on top of the championship he won with the Miami Heat in 2006, makes him one who deserves our respect both on and off of the hardwood.
In 1996, had someone told Lance Armstrong he would win every Tour de France from 1999 to 2005, he probably would have laughed in their face and called them crazy. At the time, he was fighting three forms of cancer and not expected to survive. In what can only be described as a miracle, Armstrong went on to beat the cancer and win seven consecutive Tour de France titles.
In the years following his battle with cancer, Armstrong established the Lance Armstrong Foundation, known to many as Live Strong. The organization acts as a support group for people battling or who have battled cancer.
On top of that, Armstrong tours the world as a motivational speaker, telling his story to the masses.
Despite the Tour de France run being tainted by allegations of doping, it cannot be denied that Armstrong has made great strides in the face of the adversity he faced. In his work, he truly has given a lot back.
Despite the other names preceding him on this list, Tom Walter takes the top spot.
Why? Because his actions are easily the most selfless out of all of the others mentioned.
Here is a man who went and donated a kidney to one of his players who he barely even knew. In doing so, he saved the life and, perhaps, the career of a young man with much potential to succeed.
As he said in the conference call, Walter views his team as a family. Family means making sacrifices and in donating his kidney, Walter made the ultimate one. He put his own well-being on the line just so that one of his players could get back on the field.
One can only hope that Wake Forest goes far in the College World Series under Walter. After what he did, he most certainly deserves to be a champion. Even if the team doesn't win it all, he will still be considered a true champion in the eyes of this writer.