For the Love of the Game: Five Athletes We Can All Learn From

Tim Fontenault@Tim_FontenaultCorrespondent IAugust 21, 2010

For Love of the Game: Five Athletes We Can All Learn From

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    I dedicate this piece primarily to Darelle Revis, who has really driven me crazy with his holdout this offseason. Everyone says that right? Well, consider that I'm a diehard New England Patriots fan saying that Revis is driving me nuts saying that he won't play this year and we have serious issues.

    Whether its Revis or Michael Crabtree or Ndamukong Suh in the NFL, or the tons of other athletes constantly refusing to play or demanding a trade because they want more money, sports are being tainted by selfish money grubbing pigs who care more about the size of their bank accounts then the game they supposedly love.

    Here I highlight five athletes from three different sports. All of these players are active and noteworthy athletes who can teach their coworkers a thing or two about what it actually means to be an athlete.

Peyton Manning—Indianapolis Colts, QB

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    Peyton Manning, arguably the greatest quarterback in the NFL today, is in a contract year.

    It may come as a shock to those who watch the NFL, but he is, believe it or not, practicing with his team, rather than holding out.

    Can you believe it?

    Manning exemplifies what it means to be an athlete. Sure he is the NFL's highest paid quarterback, but when you make it to both Super Bowls XLI and XLIV, you deserve to be the highest paid.

    No doubt, the Saints will soon want to make Drew Brees the top money getter at the position, but Manning is not complaining.

    Oh and believe it or not, at $18.7 million a year and at the most important position on the gridiron, he still is not the highest paid player in the league.

    What amazes me about Manning is what he said about the situation of his contract.

    "I'm not going to lose sleep over it," he says.

    A perennial MVP and the best line of scrimmage audible quarterback in the game has no worries about how much money he will be making next year.

    He just wants to get back to the Super Bowl, and reverse the fortunes of last year and win his second ring.

Oguchi Onyewu—AC Milan and US National Team Defender

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    Oguchi Onyewu is loved by Americans everywhere for being a no fear, whatever it takes defender, willing to risk it all for club and country out on the soccer field.

    And he isn't worried about making money either.

    After leaving Major League Soccer in the United States, Goochi landed at Standard Liege of the Belgian Super League. In three seasons, the American established himself as a vital member of the defense and lead Liege to the Belgian championship in 2008/2009, earning them a place in the prestigious UEFA Champions' League tournament for 2009/2010.

    That and a strong performance for the United States at the 2009 FIFA Confederations' Cup, which saw the US knock off the world's best team, Spain, snapping their 35 match unbeaten streak, earned Onyewu an offer to join AC Milan, widely regarded as the world's greatest team in history.

    Americans rejoiced. Onyewu was the first American to play in Italy in almost fifteen years and the first ever at the famous club.

    However, after just one appearance late in September, his season was cut short.

    In October, he injured his knee playing for the United States in the last game of World Cup Qualifying. He missed the rest of the season and barely made it back for the World Cup.

    With Milan's injuries on defense later in the year, Onyewu could have earned valuable time.

    However, both the club and the defender worked hard to get Onyewu back to health. He explained recently that he was amazed and grateful at how well the club took care of him.

    The club had signed Onyewu through 2012, but wanted to extend their appreciation of his hard work by adding a year, through 2013.

    Onyewu, not a high paid player by professional standards in the first place, countered and added to the offer.

    He would stay, but make up for not being available all season by taking a pay cut in that final season.

    A 100 percent pay cut, as he asked to play the 2012/2013 season for free.

    You just don't get that anymore in professional sports. Onyewu is a class act who loves the game too much to give it up. Along with his love of the game comes his desire to play and play often. He has his work cut out for him, as Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva, Sokratis, Mario Yepes, and arguably even Danielle Bonera stand in the way of Onyewu eventually earning one of the two center back spots for manager Massimiliano Allegri.

    Whether he's playing or not, Onyewu deserves a lot of respect for his drive and attitude and his unconditional love for the game. He proves that money isn't everything.

Derek Jeter—New York Yankees, SS

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    No Jeter, we should be saluting you.

    As a New Englander, I am all about the Boston Red Sox, even a registered member of Red Sox Nation.

    In Red Sox Nation, we have two rules when it comes to our arch-rivals, the New York Yankees:

    1) You hate the New York Yankees and everything to do with them.

    2) You absolutely love Derek Jeter.

    Sure we may boo him at Fenway Park, but we have to play the part.

    No matter what team you like, or maybe you don't even watch baseball, you have to have love and respect for Derek Jeter.

    The captain has played his entire career with the New York Yankees, from his start in the minor leagues in 1992, to his debut for the big club on May 29, 1995, to today, there has never been any doubts, any speculation, nothing about the possibility of Jeter wearing anything but the pinstripes.

    At 36, he still plays like a young player, and he still probably lives life like a kid in a dream.

    Many kids dream of playing for their favorite team. Very few make it to professional ball and the odds of your favorite team signing you are today one in thirty, less when Jeter was a child in New Jersey.

    Here we are. Jeter is 36 and has been a regular starter for his childhood sweetheart for almost fifteen years and the captain of said team since 2003.

    Do we hear about Jeter racking in the dough everyday? Do we hear him complaining that arguably the best shortstop in history and one of the famous "Big Three" of the late 90s and early 21st century (Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Nomar Garciaparra) demanding more money? No.

    Jeter is all about baseball. He is about being able to wake up in the morning and go to work loving his job.

    He has never done steroids. If he ever did, the world would come crashing down. He has proven that you don't need to cheat to be among the greatest to ever take the field. As of the minute I write this, he is a lifetime .315 hitter, has 233 home runs (nothing to turn the other way to), he has driven in 1,123 runs, scored 1,160 of his own, and has an astounding 2,887 hits.

    He is an 11 time All Star, a two time MVP, a World Series MVP, a five time world champion, a four time Gold Glover, a winner of the Hank Aaron Award, the Roberto Clemente Award, and most importantly, he has set himself into the heart of every young American kid who dared to dream. He sets the right ideal for kids. He is certainly one of my role models, and my role model athletes list is running thin these days.

    The greatest clean player of recent memory certainly exemplifies what an athlete should be. The Yankees have the right idea: the name on the front is much more important than the one on the back. That is why they never put names on their shirts.

    However, if Jeter did have his name on the back of his shirt, he would probably rip it off. The last thing he thinks about is himself. He plays for his love of baseball and his love of the Yankees. Its about the team and the game, not Derek Jeter.

Landon Donovan—Los Angeles Galaxy and US National Team Midfielder

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    There is no denying who the greatest American soccer player ever is.

    There is no denying that said player made himself and his teammates America's newest heroes on June 23rd, 2010.

    There is no doubt he made America believe in the Beautiful Game.

    Landon Donovan is obviously the player described above, but it is not the goal against Algeria, or the beautiful goal against Slovenia, or the goal against Ghana that puts him on this list. The greediest player in sports could have scored those goals, figuratively speaking.

    Donovan is far from greedy.

    Soccer players are among the lowest paid athletes in the United States, but they do not care because the best soccer players do not play for the money. It's a nice bonus, but they do not hold out or whine until they get more money.

    Soccer players are all about bettering themselves and their clubs and, by extent of bettering themselves, potentially bettering their national teams.

    The United States national team had 19 of its 23 players playing outside the United States professionally, primarily in England and Mexico but also Germany, Italy, France, Norway, and elsewhere in Europe.

    To the surprise of many, the team's star player was still in MLS with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

    However, a great thing about soccer is the idea of player loans.

    Donovan knows that to further his career, he will have to prove himself at a European club. However, he enjoys playing for the Galaxy and is the face of MLS. The league is not ready to lose him yet.

    During the offseason from January to March, however, Donovan was loaned from LA to English club Everton.

    In 2009, he was loaned to a much bigger club, Bayern Munich of Germany.

    It was a return to Germany for Donovan. As a teenager, he was brought in as a youth player to Bayer Leverkusen, where he performed well for their academy team. Failing to impress the big club, he was sent to MLS on loan with the San Jose Earthquakes, where he stayed as a loan player for three years and became a star.

    Leverkusen, after another failed attempt with the club, finally sold him to the Galaxy in 2005 and he has been there ever since.

    Having been a star for the US since the 2002 World Cup and for the Earthquakes and Galaxy for the same period, many questioned why Donovan remained in America.

    Many believe that his two tries at Leverkusen explained it.

    Bayern Munich, where he found it difficult to break into the team, only enhanced the doubters claims.

    Everton changed everything.

    In ten games with "the Toffees," Donovan scored two goals for the Premier League team and was vital to wins over the two best teams in England, Manchester United and Chelsea, and a tie against the third best Arsenal.

    By the end, Donovan had earned the respect of critics around the world. The English Everton fans, who knew that Donovan would be facing their country on June 10th, put their national ties aside. Whenever Donovan went to take a corner, the chant of "USA! USA! USA!" erupted around Goodison Park.

    Despite manager David Moyes attempts to keep the player, he honored his loyalty and ties to the Galaxy and returned for the beginning of the MLS season this year.

    This all points to what makes Donovan such a classy player.

    Donovan is like many people in any job, they want to become better. They may be good already, but they want to prove that they can do more.

    That is why, despite the adversity he faced in Germany, he has never given up.

    Thanks to his time at Everton, his performances with the Galaxy, and his stardom for Team USA, Donovan is one of the most sought after players in the world.

    Everton, Manchester City, and AC Milan have expressed the most interest in Donovan.

    Despite being courted by such big names, you do not see Donovan hurrying the process.

    At the MLS All Star game, in his normal calm, gentle tone, he shrugged the questions of a transfer off for the most part, saying that if it happened, it happened.

    While many athletes looking for a deal would just sit out or play lazily, Donovan has been hard at work, playing aggressively for the Galaxy in both MLS and in their failed attempt to qualify for the Group Stage of the CONCACAF Champions' League.

    Like the others on this list, it isn't about the money for Landon. He loves the game and he is happy. If he gets a move to Europe, great. Until then, his main focus is being a great leader and captain for LA, winning matches, and bringing MLS Cup back to the Home Depot Center.

Tom Brady- New England Patriots, QB

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    Take pretty much everything I said about Peyton Manning and apply it to Tom Brady.

    Few quarterbacks could come in during the middle of the second game of the season, having played only snaps here in there in their first couple years as a complete unknown, and replace an injured quarterback the likes of Drew Bledsoe.

    Tom Brady did.

    That was nine years ago, in 2001 when the third year player out of Michigan was an unknown even in Foxboro.

    How things change.

    Like Manning, the former MVP and winner of Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, and XXXIX is one of the greatest of the decade and today. He is also in a contract year.

    Yes he has answered a lot of questions on TV about it, but the consensus summary of the interviews is that the contract is for another time. He wants to be a Patriot, but right now, its just about getting back to the playoffs and back to the Super Bowl, where the Patriots haven't been since the horror of Super Bowl XLII.

    Even when he was hurt, Brady has always wanted to be on the field for the Patriots. He loves playing in Foxboro and has never expressed anger towards the team.

    He plays because he loves football, not money.

    Yes like many players he has a nice bank account, but unlike Revis, Crabtree, Lebron, Bosh, A-Rod, etc., its not the size of the contract he is worried about. He would never hold out of camp. The issues are on the field. The issues are winning football games and getting back to and winning the Super Bowl.

    One can only imagine how upset Brady must be at the holdout of Logan Mankins, one of his star linemen.

Conclusion

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    Pictures like this are what drive me crazy about publicity and sports today.

    You're right in this one Revis, you are all about you.

    It is embarrassing to see the way these players behave nowadays.

    "Oh no, I'm only going to make $25 million next year! I'm not playing until I get more!"

    The way I see it, doctors, teachers, the President, police officers, surgeons, these people are more important to society than athletes. For us, the athletes are more entertainment, but they should not be playing for the money, they should be playing because they are good at it and its what they love to do.

    I'm sorry to you big time athletes, but I believe my eleventh grade English teacher, who is the greatest teacher I have ever met and who opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity, deserves to be making more than you.

    The doctors who prolong your careers deserve more than you do.

    The President who runs our country deserves more than $400K a year if you're making millions.

    However, hope is not entirely lost for the sanity and role model athlete. The likes of Manning, Brady, Onyewu, Donovan, and Jeter are still out there. These are the ones we owe attention to.

    These are the ones we should give a care about.