Every Wednesday night I volunteer my time to help a group of boys at my church. We help them play games, we have treats and we learn lessons about the Bible. The other volunteers and myself don't do it for the money. I, for one, do this because I know what it's like to hit bottom, and I do not want these kids to make the same mistakes that I did.
In the NFL, there are people like that as well. These people, who could be players or coaches, and who could be retired or presently playing, seek to go above and beyond the NFL as just a vocation and seek to be examples and mentors to others. This article is going to seek to promote those who do things of these nature, not just for their strong athletic prowess or leadership ability, but for their mentorship, as well to be the true role models for young people.
Drew Brees is the first really great individual on and off the field to be showcased here. To begin with, since signing with the New Orleans Saints in 2006 just after Hurricane Katrina, he has become just as well known for his charity work off the field as he has for his play on the field.
His foundation has helped over 50 schools and other organization in the recovery effort in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. He was awarded the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award last November.
In addition to having one of the best feel-good NFL stories this side of the last twenty years, Kurt Warner is also another class act in this league. The two-time Super Bowl appearance, the records he has set and the other important achievements in his career all pale in comparison to the grit and determination the man has had throughout his NFL career. He began by working at a grocery store and playing in the Arena league in his spare time; he eventually was signed by the Rams.
He has also done a lot of charity work and has also stepped in to be a father figure to his wife's children from her first marriage—including one that has brain damage from a fall. He also has a foundation called First Things First, which is dedicated to promoting his Christian values and to assisting people that are developmentally disabled, those in children's hospitals and single parents.
His work outside of football earned him the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2008.
The author considers anyone who volunteers to put themselves at risk for our country to be a class act. When the person is Pat Tillman; however, the designation of class act rises to a whole new level. Not only did Mr. Tillman leave the NFL to join the service after the 9/11 attacks, but he also turned down a $3 million dollar contract from the Cardinals in doing so. Unfortunately, he was killed in the line of duty while in Afghanistan in 2004.
His name has been retired for the Cardinals, and he was posthumously promoted to corporal.
As backup to Tony Romo in Dallas, Jon Kitna has built a reputation around his strong Christian faith. He is well-known for his fair style of play, and for his decent style of vocabulary on the field as well. As noted by another player when he was with the Lions, the worst thing he has said while on the field was "fudge."
Even though he is a pro QB making millions of dollars; he still tithes regularly to his church. When Tony Romo went down with an injury in 2010, Kitna stepped in nicely, going 4-5 and throwing for 2,000 yards and several touchdowns.
Reggie White played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers for 15 seasons. As an ordained minister, Reggie White was also well-known for his strong evangelical Christian faith. He always strove to be a positive influence on the field and off. His nickname was the "Minister of Defense."
During his playing days, he was also an associate minister at Inner City Church in Atlanta in 1996 when the church was destroyed in the church-arson epidemic of the mid-90's. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack in 2004.
Several intersections in Tennessee and Wisconsin have been re-named for him.
Having played for both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Denver Broncos, safety Brian Dawkins has been described as "mild-mannered" and a "quiet Christian man." His alter-ego, however, on the playing field, is termed "The Wolverine." He is the epitome of a strong leader, who is constantly rallying his troops on the football field.
He has been a positive influence to many in his career, and as competitive as he is on the football field, he is also another one of those guys that does not use profanity.
As a strong safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Troy Polamalu is known as one of the hardest-hitting, most fiercely-competitive players in the sport today. His message for Christians and for others is to guard against the sin of pride. "It's the accumulation of really small things," he states. "The Devil's strategy is to be very subtle."
Because of that mindset, Polamalu makes a point every day to be a person of prayer. Although he is one of the best, he always tries to keep everything in perspective.
Currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars, defensive end Aaron Kampman is also another player who has a good perspective on his NFL career. When he was still with the Packers, he went through a particularly-tough 2006 NFL season. He was quoted with the following:
"Everyone gets frustrated....you have to realize life is bigger than winning and losing. In 10 years, it's not going to matter."
Don Steinbrunner was drafted by the original Cleveland Browns in 1953, playing offensive tackle and only had an eight-game NFL career because of a knee injury. He is one of only two NFL players to have been killed in the line of duty during the Vietnam war.
Although he could have had a safer assignment, he refused, and his plane was shot down on July 20, 1967. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Tony Dungy is well-known throughout the NFL as an example of positive leadership. Recently, he was instrumental in helping Michael Vick rebuild his life after he was arrested and convicted for his involvement in dog fighting and cruelty to animals. He has served as both the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001 and the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-2008.
Dungy has done a ton of great charity and civic work throughout his career. He has been involved in a prison chaplaincy ministry, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program and has been a speaker at different times in his career for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
There are literally tons of other individuals who could have been listed in this slide show who have a positive impact on the game. Either through their charity work, their leadership or their attitude. Among these would be Joe Gibbs, Donovan McNabb, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and many, many others.