The NFL's Greatest Role Models
As a fan of the game that is football, I find that those who have a particular disdain for the sport seem to point their finger at the same reasons every time. The main one being that NFL players are "juiced up, egotistical selfish moronic (insert desired expletive)'s."
Now I'm not one to point fingers, but I fully understand where these comments come from and why they persist today. The success of football and the money that goes along with it have led to some stars thinking they are untouchable and carrying around egos the size of houses, which often leads to their downfall.
Alas, we shall not dwell on these stars, as despite their being a certain amount of negativity in the NFL, there is an overwhelmingly larger amount of positivity, and in the spirit of providing some faith in the universe during these dark lockout times, we take a look at some of the NFL's greatest role models and most charitable men.
When compiling this list, I decided against ranking the selected players, as the nature of this list is not a competition but a celebration of the many good things the NFL is capable of making possible.
Al Bello/Getty Images
A controversial name starts this list off, Mike Vick.
Now some may berate me for putting Vick on this list and some would do the same if I left him off of it, considering everything he's done since his conviction. While there are many men who have done lots more than Vick to establish themselves as role models, it is Vick's story and circumstance that lands him a spot on this list. While I am skeptical of Vick's place here, some might champion his learning the error of his ways and becoming a better person for it.
While I'll admit that Michael Vick is a classic case of the bad guy come good, I subscribe more to the camp that asks 'What if he never got caught?'. Would Vick have ever seen the error in his ways if he hadn't had the world's media crucifying him?
In spite of this, the new Mike Vick has become the poster boy for second chances, and has given a lot of access to the media as he has tried to redeem his poor choices in life, and has done charity work with The Humane Society.
He's traveled the country to talk about dog-fighting and pleaded with youngsters not to make the same choices he did, seeming genuinely remorseful.
Add to that his resurgence into the league, with a great season in Philly under his belt and it all starts to sound like a Hollywood movie.
Whether Vick continues his character re-establishing charitable lifestyle is still up for debate, but he seems to have won over the city of Philadelphia and many football watching fans the world over.
Another polarizing figure lands on this list and his name is Ray Lewis. Love him or hate him, Ray Lewis has had a storied NFL career and is without a doubt a future Hall of Fame inductee.
There are many who will never forgive Ray for his involvement in what took place in Atlanta following Super Bowl XXXIV, and there still remains questions about Lewis' place in the story despite murder charges against him being dropped.
In spite of these muddy waters, Lewis has spent the best part of his life outside of football engaging in a number of selfless and charitable causes.
He currently runs the non-profit Ray Lewis 52 Foundation, the main goal of which is to provide personal and economic assistance to disadvantaged youth. This charity is funded through a variety of avenues such as Bowling Tournaments and Thanksgiving Food Drives amongst a variety of others.
In 2006 he won a JB 'Act of Kindness' Award for his work within the Baltimore Community. In 2010, part of Baltimore's North Avenue was renamed 'Ray Lewis Way' (see video above) in recognition of Lewis' charitable work.
Lewis has also campaigned for the recognition and development of disability sports here at home and in the developing world, and if you caught him on The Rich Eisen Podcast recently you'll have heard Ray speak of how he heads down to Baltimore's most troubled areas right after home games to talk to and do whatever he can for the people there.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Charles 'Peanut' Tillman of the Chicago Bears, is a former nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year and rightly so, he is the founder of the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation.
Since 2005, the foundation has impacted the lives of over one million children in the Chicago area.
The foundation runs a number of programs for children that are chronically and critically ill, providing them not only with support but with opportunities for days out to Soldier Field and amusement parks.
Tillman also puts on a dinner for the mothers of critically and chronically ill children in order to let them 'take a minute' for themselves, and to honor them for their sacrifices.
The foundation also tries to provide economic support to families facing instability and going through troubling times in order to help them get back on their feet, improving their quality of life.
If that wasn't enough Charles, his wife Jackie, and a number of Elves dress up as Santa & Co. to visit a number of Chicago-based hospitals to give out gifts and well wishes each year.
Following the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV victory, Drew Brees has landed himself the moniker of being a sacred hero to the city of New Orleans (nicknamed Breesus), but it's not only his on-the-field success that has given the city the amount of joy it celebrated with following that victory, Brees has done a huge amount off the field also.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Brees' Dream Foundation partnered with Operation Kids to rebuild and restore schools and athletic facilities as well as revitalizing neighborhoods, childcare facilities, parks and playgrounds. It also restarted after-school programs and mentoring programs for the intellectually disabled.
Brees has also raised awareness on issues such as bullying following a spate of gay teen suicides, as well as the Deep-water oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. He has also been named to co-chair The President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
Throw in a trip to Guantanamo, various charitable promotion deals and sports challenges, and Brees proves to be one hell of a good guy.
Robert Laberge/Getty Images
An NFL All-Pro selection in 2000, Pat Tillman was offered a $3.6 million contract by the Arizona Cardinals eight months after the Sept. 11 attacks, after the close-out of the season.
Tillman turned it down in order to enlist in the army, a decision that would lead not only to his untimely death but one that would cement him in history as one of the NFL's greatest men.
It speaks volumes in an offseason that is plagued by a tussle over who gets what piece of the money pie, that Pat Tillman would turn down a contract that, is big money to you and me.
Tillman was a great example of patriotism and was a role model not only to the NFL community or the sporting community for that matter, but for the entire country at large.
The tragic circumstances of Tillman's death from friendly fire is just one of many upsetting stories from a conflict that seems never-ending, but it is not for his tragic death that he will be remembered.
Immortalized in bronze outside the University of Phoenix Stadium, Tillman will be forever remembered for the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country and in the name of freedom, and in the process reminding us all that football is just a game.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Super Bowl winner Peyton Manning is arguably one of the greatest to play the game, Manning has carried the hopes of the Indianapolis faithful on his shoulders for what seems like forever, and remains a force to be reckoned with on the football field.
Manning has a public image that is near flawless, and a sense of humor to boot, having appeared in an endless stream of hilarious adverts and skits. He is never one to bring drama to his team or to the NFL as a whole, having kept noticeably quiet throughout this offseason's lockout.
This character is one of the few remaining in sports that is truly unblemished, like Brees, Manning remains a character that parents the world over champion as being an exceptional athlete and character.
Manning is the founder of The Peyback Foundation, an organization that focuses its charitable efforts on disadvantaged kids in Tennessee, Louisiana and Indiana.
Peyton and his brother Eli assisted in the delivery of 30,000 pounds of water, Gatorade, baby formula, diapers, and pillows to the city of New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
To add to that, Manning and his wife made an undisclosed donation to the St.Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis which lead to the hospital renaming it's children's department 'Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent.'
Not only is Manning an icon to millions of fans and incredibly charitable guy, he is frequently referred to by players as being an inspiration to them and a role model for them within the league.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
As Kurt states on his website, 'Many have said if my life story was a script in Hollywood, it would never be believed. But - I am where I am because I believed and I never gave up'.
Kurt Warner is the embodiment of the great American success story. He's a fantastic character and continues to be a role model to the next generation. Those who follow Kurt on Twitter will see how much love Kurt has for the game of football, his fans and most importantly his wife and kids.
Hard work and perseverance are the keys to Kurt's philosophy, as was evident in the 2006 season when he lead the upstart Cardinals all the way to the Superbowl against the odds and showed that he still had game and that he is a future Hall of Fame inductee for sure. Warner has beaten the odds throughout his career, being cut by the Packers in '94 and a having a chance with the Bears fall through early on, to sitting on the bench in St.Louis, it was enough to make most give up, however Warner, the class act that he is put the work in and when he got his chance The Greatest Show on Turf was born.
Warner has racked up awards in his time too, from Walter Payton & Bart Starr Man of the Year Awards, to MVP awards, a Superbowl MVP award, and 4 Pro-Bowl selections.
Off the field, Warner's First Things First foundation does a variety of things from sending ill and unfortunate children to DisneyWorld, teaching Special Olympians the basics of football and a home for the holidays scheme amongst others. The foundation is influenced by Warner's strong Christian faith and Warner's message is to try and bring hope to those who need it most, through everything his faith has given him.
Warner really is the embodiment of hard work and dedication and how if you really believe, then you can do anything, his philanthropic efforts just make him even more admirable. Doesn't get much better than that does it?
J. Meric/Getty Images
Now Warrick Dunn is one hell of a charitable guy; I was shocked to see the extent of what this guy has done for those in need.
First a little background, Dunn's mother was a police officer who, while working as a security guard to make some extra money, was escorting a woman to the bank at night to make a deposit when she was ambushed by armed robbers and killed.
This devastating loss influenced Dunn to create the Warrick Dunn Foundation and the Homes for the Holidays program. Dunn's goal is to provide struggling single parents with the home his mother couldn't provide for him and his siblings.
Dunn provides a down payment on homes out of his own back pocket, and works with area sponsors to furnish the homes. Dunn's program has recently provided the 100th home, a huge achievement no one can deny.
For his contributions, Dunn has been awarded a Bart Starr Award, been named Walter Payton Man of the Year, "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year, as well as receiving a Giant Steps Award in civic leadership from President Bill Clinton.
But it doesn't stop there, following Hurricane Katrina, Dunn challenged all NFL players to donate $5,000 to the relief effort, racking up a total of approximately $5 million overall...not bad!
Let's not forget the RB's on the field success too, with three Pro Bowl selections and membership in the illustrious 10,000 rushing yards club.
Al Bello/Getty Images
In 2004, Jason Taylor and his wife Katina set up a foundation aimed at improving the well-being of children in South Florida. The Jason Taylor Foundation has launched a reading program, an after-school program, the aim of which is to increase the literacy of inner city children.
Taylor has also provided six students with College scholarships as a part of the Take Stock in Children organization.
He has created the Big Screens-Big Dreams program which screens inspirational movies to student-athletes, as well as kitting out 60 children with $300 back-to-school shopping vouchers as a part of the Cool Gear for the School Year program.
For all of his contributions, Taylor was named Walter Payton Man of the Year for 2007, also receiving the similar JB Award for contribution to the community.
On the field, Taylor undoubtedly has Hall of Fame credentials, the all-time leader in fumbles returned for touchdowns is a six-time Pro Bowl selection, and former AP NFL Defensive player of the year, as well as being named to the NFL's All Decades 2000's roster.
Taylor is a great example of not settling for success on the field but excelling both on it and off of it.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Steve Young is one hell of a role model, let's get that out of the way right away! Young is a three-time Super Bowl Champion, a Super Bowl MVP, a two-time AP NFL MVP, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and the list goes on and on.
Young is really someone to inspire youth, and one of the all-time greats to look up to. He is a man of outstanding character and a multitude of talent.
In terms of getting it done on the football field, Young is one of the best; just look at the list of records Young still has to his name (in the record-smashing era in which we find ourselves) and he really does become a figurehead for the sport.
Not only was Young exceptional on the field but he continues to be active off of it. He serves as National Advisor to ASCEND: A Humanitarian Alliance, a non-profit organization that provides sustainable solutions in education, health, enterprise and simple technology as well as providing life skills mentoring, to countries in Africa and South America.
He is also the founder of the Forever Young Foundation, the goal of which is to provide academic, athletic and therapeutic opportunities to children facing significant physical, emotional and financial troubles.
He also serves as the National Spokesperson for the Best Shot Foundation, holding the title of Honorary League Commissioner of the Pnock Out Pneumonia Dodgeball Tournaments that Best Shot puts on each year in 16 cities across the U.S.
Steve continues to be an upstanding alumni of the NFL and an all around great role model to players and fans.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Man of the moment Nnamdi Asomugha has done so much off the field that it would be hard for me to do it justice in this one slide.
While most talk of Nnamdi Asomugha centers around where he will be playing ball in 2011, his outstanding corner-backing skills are not the only thing that makes Nnamdi a great guy to have in your organization.
As Chairman of the Asomugha Foundation, Nnamdi aided by his family, provides food, shelter, medicine, vocational training, literacy efforts, and scholarships to widows and orphans who have been victimized by poverty and abuse in Nigeria.
Asomugha also does an annual college tour with students from the Bay Area and L.A. who otherwise couldn't afford to visit schools, taking them across the country to a whole host of campuses as part of his Asomugha College Tour for Scholars program.
Every year since 2009, Nnamdi has been invited to and has partaken in the Clinton Global Initiative, talking about such subjects as the importance of community service.
He also kits out Narbonne High School students with backpacks, provides training equipment for the football team and basketball teams.
In the process, Asomugha has been awarded a whole host of praise, through the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, to the Presidents Volunteer Service Award.
What strikes me most, is that I wasn't aware of Asomugha's incredible off-the-field work until he won Man of the Year.
It really speaks volumes that Asomugha doesn't self-promote and seek gratification, but is merely an exceptional football player and outstanding role model in the modern age.
The List Goes On...
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
While I may have omitted a number of stars who deserve to be on this list, I have simply picked the ones that stand out to me.
It's true that perhaps those who contribute most in their spare time are the ones we never hear about, and those of you who live in those cities will know who contributes to your community, and there are undoubtedly many unsung heroes.
This article has tried to show that counter to the negativity that the NFL has drawn over certain Pittsburgh Steelers QB's, among countless others, that there are many players past and present who have overwhelmingly contributed not only to the illustrious history of the National Football League, but have contributed to society as a whole.
While the NFL will remain in the headlines every time a scandal comes along, we can be safe in the knowledge that the youth of today has a vast array of role models to look up to in the athletes who play in today's league.
Like I said, this list could go on forever and I invite you to inundate the comments section with praise for those who make an impact in your community!