10 Sports Figures and Their Attributes We Can Be Thankful for

Eddie BeckerCorrespondent INovember 24, 2011

10 Sports Figures and Their Attributes We Can Be Thankful for

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    Often times it's not easy in a world filled with egotistical athletes, greedy owners and morally corrupt programs to find things to be grateful for. 

    Especially in a year like this, where between the tragic sexual molestation scandal unfolding daily at Penn State to the NBA lockout dividing greed against greed to constant rule-breaking at collegiate programs, you'd think sports in general had turned into a cesspool of morally bankrupt people. 

    Here, on this Thanksgiving holiday, I offer you a silver lining.

    Here are 10 athletes, coaches and other sports figures that each have an outstanding attribute to their personality or circumstance that we can sit back and truly appreciate. 

    So please, in the midst of your turkey-induced coma and avoidance of the in-laws, take a moment and reflect on these people in the world of sports that we can all be thankful for.

Be Thankful For...Peyton Manning's Talents

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    He could never be labeled overrated, because everyone knows Peyton Manning is a special talented quarterback.  However, it took seeing his team play without him to know just how special Manning really was.

    The Colts, playing the entire season without their star QB due to neck surgery, are currently 0-10 and look fully in control of next year's No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. 

    Through 10 games this year, they have only 14 total touchdowns.  Last year, they finished with 51.  Last season, the Colts finished fourth in total offense.  This year?  Next to last in the league.

    We all knew the Colts would fall off a good bit without Manning, but no one expected a complete free fall. 

    Manning is indeed the backbone to the Colts franchise, beyond just a QB, he commands the offense to the point where he should be getting the offensive coordinator's paychecks also. 

Be Thankful For...David Freese's Clutch Performance

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    Judging an athlete by his stats is easy.  Or the contract he's given, or his endorsements.  After all, the worth of an athlete on the field is often based on his personal numbers or the money he makes.  That's it.

    But shouldn't what really counts for an athlete (and really most people in other professions) be how they perform at crunch time?  What are they like when the pressure is turned up to a level? 

    For the St. Louis Cardinals' David Freese, it's simple: just deliver results.

    With two huge clutch hits in Game 6 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers, including a winning walk-off home run in the 11th inning, Freese proved he could handle the pressure.  In fact, he spent the entire postseason performing at the highest level, making him only the sixth player ever to win both the LCS MVP and World Series MVP awards. 

    When the game is on the line, don't just look for the guy making $20 million a year to win it, find the guy with the grit to get the job done.  David Freese is that guy.

Be Thankful For...Pat Summitt's Courage

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    It's hard to sit back and look at everyone that's ever been stricken with a terrible illness and label them as courageous, because what else is there to be?  But when you're thrust into the national spotlight due to your success, any illness that affects you can affect entire teams, towns and regions.

    Pat Summitt, the winningest basketball coach of any division in the history of the sport, let the world know a few months back that she had been diagnosed with dementia.  At its best, dementia is a frustrating disease causing momentary lapses in memory.  At its worst, it robs people of their mind.  Something that cannot be easy for Pat Summitt, because if anyone has even been described as strong and determined, it's her.

    Her willingness to share her personal health struggles with America is endearing, not just because of who she is in her profession, but who she is as a person.  One who has acted as a coach both on the court and in the life of so many young women is now on the other side of vulnerability. 

    As it is, there is no cure for dementia, and barring a medical miracle, Summitt's mind will decline more and more with each passing year.  But the courage she stands with each week on the sidelines and on camera pales in comparison to her courage behind the scenes.  If only half of those she's coached wind up with her determination and spirit, the world will no doubt be a better place.

Be Thankful For...Joe Maddon's Resourcefulness

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    Perhaps the credit should go to the Tampa Bay Rays' organization as a whole, but their manager Joe Maddon has managed to turn a team of non-superstars into consistent winners.  That's no small task when you play in the same division as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

    This past season, both the Yankees and Red Sox ranked No. 1 and No. 3 respectively in total payroll.  Tampa Bay's ranking?  29th.  Just under five million dollars more than the Royals, who ranked 30th (last overall). 

    The Rays ended up winning the American League Wild Card last season after the Red Sox completely collapsed late in the season.  Tampa Bay has now made the playoffs three of the past four seasons, two of those ending with AL East Championships. 

    Maddon has seen every other team within the division change managers at least once during that timespan. 

    Before the 2011 season, they lost their star outfielder and perennial face of the franchise, Carl Crawford, to the Red Sox during free agency.  Despite that loss, the Rays still managed to beat out Boston for the Wild Card.

    He may not have won a World Series yet, but with the limited payroll, nobody does better than Joe Maddon at getting the most out of his players.

Be Thankful For...Bob Costas' Ability with Words

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    If you watched him interview disgraced ex-Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, then you know Bob Costas owns the interview like no other in his profession.

    His willingness to be firm and professional during the eye-opening interview proved that he was really good at what he does.

    He's worked for years doing commentating on various sporting events, and has done numerous interviews.  But the way he uses words make you feel like your listening to Langston Hughes and Robert Frost call a baseball game.  Poetic and striking, yet always even-keeled.

    Costas does well in any sports venue, but we can only hope he'll do what many have suggested in the past, and that's to eventually succeed Bud Selig as the MLB commissioner.

Be Thankful For...Mike Krzyzewski's Leadership

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    The accomplishments are staggering: 905 wins, 12 ACC Titles, 13 ACC Tournament Championships, 11 Final Fours, four national titles and an Olympic Gold Medal in 2008. 

    Coach K has defined coaching, and his leadership is proving itself in more ways than one.

    Great leaders develop great leaders.  Nine former players or assistant coaches of Krzyzewski have become head coaches at various schools.  Dozens have gone to play in the NBA.  Other former players currently work as assistant coaches for Duke in some capacity.

    Great leaders also have to be adaptable to changes.  Coach K has proven that with his four national titles that were won in different eras of the college game (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010).  Coach K has succeeded during the age of the four-year player to the current day of many "one-and-done" players. 

    Krzyzewski has proven himself at the next level also, taking a group of star-studded NBA players to Beijing to win the 2008 Summer Olympics Gold Medal.  Despite being offered jobs from NBA teams numerous times, Coach K stays true to Duke. 

    In an age of coaches changing jobs faster than a Kardashian changes love interests, Coach K is the epitome of a leader that has been successful beyond his own accomplishments, and for several decades, not just a few years.

Be Thankful For...Wilson Ramos' Safe Return

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    The story of Wilson Ramos' kidnapping in his native country of Venezuela a few weeks ago was terrifying.  For two days, Ramos was held for ransom by eight men at gunpoint.  The Venezuelan government thankfully managed to get Ramos and made arrests on four of his captors.

    It's a foreign concept to us in America that something like this can happen, especially to a Major League Baseball player. 

    Tragic events in our sports bubble often include favorite players moving teams, not getting who you wanted your team to get in the draft or the star outfielder striking out three times in a game.

    Even for players in the USA, the struggles are minimal to say the least.  Lack of a big contract, a hitting slump or two or loss of an endorsement deal.  But overseas, in other parts of the world, horrifying events like the Wilson Ramos kidnapping take place almost regularly. 

    Being thankful for Ramos' safe return is something you should feel regardless of your knowledge of the man.  Knowing that we live in a land of relative safety compared to those in other places is a huge blessing.

Be Thankful For...Tim Tebow's Integrity

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    Do you know what will be one of the toughest days in sports?

    When Tim Tebow messes up.

    I don't mean on the football field, because he certainly has not mastered the NFL quarterback position by any means.  I mean off the field.  When Tebow really messes up.

    And it will happen.

    Not because you or I want it to, but it just does.  And it likely won't be anything major.  He'll say something that gets taken out of context, or gets over-exuberant with an on the field celebration.  It happened to the best of players, the most moral of athletes.  It even happened to Reggie White.

    Tim Tebow is somewhat of an enigma.  He's the anti-Vick.  He's the anti-T.O.  Nobody dislikes him. 

    Sure, you may root against him if you're a Raiders, Chiefs or Chargers fan.  But nobody can say they honestly hate Tim Tebow.  That would be like saying you hate chubby babies, furry puppies and meat-lovers pizza. 

    See, Tebow is everything that 98 percent of athletes today aren't, and that's a successful man with high morals and integrity. 

    He doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, doesn't sleep around and doesn't use foul language.  He works hard, is respectful to those around him, is compassionate to the less fortunate and is humble when he succeeds.

    And that's refreshing. 

    Because what we see in Tebow are all the qualities we want to see in ourselves and our children.  We want to be successful to the highest possible level.  At the same time, we want to do that in the right way. 

    Tebow has done that.  And to have an athlete that we can look at living up to the standard most of us have for ourselves and our children is important. 

    So, if and when Tebow does mess up, even slightly, let's think twice before we persecute him.  Because to this point, he's provided us with the role model so many athletes have refused to be.  God bless Tim Tebow. 

Be Thankful For...Don Garber's Vision

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    Sports Illustrated noted this past week that Major League Soccer passed both the NBA and NHL in average attendance this past season.  A huge feat considering where soccer was in America just a few decades ago.  That growth is owed to the commissioner of the MLS, Don Garber.

    A league that began with just a handful of teams is now looking to add its 20th team soon, possibly in 2013.  The meteoric rise in MLS' popularity is more than just David Beckham joining the league. 

    Garber has led the expansion of the league since he joined as commish in 1999. 

    His brainchild idea, however, was not just expansion of the league, but making it to where each team had their own stadium, thus divorcing them from football stadium's they were sharing space with. 

    This helped to give MLS its own identity, one cultured even more by a soccer-specific marketing company Garber helped create.

    As much as many American sports fans don't want to hear it, the U.S. needs soccer to be relevant.  It's clear that soccer is the international sport, and even though we want to see shoulder pads and helmets strapped on every week, soccer is what draws crowds from around the globe.

    Garber is clear in his vision to grow soccer's popularity. He's not anti-football in any way, since he worked as an NFL executive for several years before coming to the MLS.  Before long, we could be considering soccer as the fifth sport to come alongside the big four we already have.

Be Thankful For...Ray Lewis' Passion

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    I've come to the conclusion that if there's ever anything in life I need to get motivated to do, I'm going to look up and listen to a Ray Lewis pre-game speech.

    Have you ever seen one?  He'll make you excited to watch paint dry.  He'll get you pumped up to go to your office and work on TPS reports all day.  He'll have you salivating at the thought of tackling the nasty gutters at the house you've been meaning to clean out all fall.

    Bottom line is, Ray Lewis is a man who loves what he does.

    A 12-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, Lewis has always brought his A game to every play of every game.  Known for being boisterous and outlandish at times, Lewis spends time before each game gathered with his team prepping them for battle.

    Trust me...he does a solid job.