One of the best of Vikings' traditions — dating back to the Bud Grant years — has been practiced by coach Dennis Green, with little or no fanfare.
Every Tuesday, during the NFL season, he asks his players to go out into the community and do some good. Every Tuesday is Community Day and every Tuesday they go out and give something back ... including the much-maligned Randy Moss. That's right, the same Moss whose public persona is that of a selfish, greedy, money-grabber privately, quietly goes about giving time and energy to those in need in the community. He will be doing so later this week in a kids' appreciation day in his home state of West Virginia. Yet, he is held in contempt by some in the general public.
What is going on? How come movie superstars can brag about their mega-million dollar fees and still be so well liked? How come the richest man in the world — Bill Gates, who earned $58 billion last year — is still respected and admired?
How do these people preserve their good public image, despite their "outrageous" salaries. Simple. They all hire publicists who make sure that every good deed is publicized, no matter how large or small. Every time Mel Gibson does a charitable act we hear about it. Every time Sting does a free concert to raise money for the environment we hear about it. And every time Gates gives a few million to yet another charity, we hear about. Knowing they have a human, caring side makes them all right.
We simply do not know the human — caring — giving side of players like Randy Moss.
Don't get me wrong. I am not against Moss getting every million he can get. I worked on the sidelines during 100-plus NFL games and it didn't take me long to realize that I would not go on the field for any amount of money. I enjoy longevity, and the bottom line is I can expect to live to (on average) 70-plus years while the average NFL player will be lucky to make it to age 55. Each year the players are faster, stronger and the hitting gets harder. I never, ever want to get hit ONCE the way these guys get hit every Sunday. Let Moss and Culpepper and others do that and get whatever the market will bear.
The trouble occurs when the media emphasizes those huge salaries, to the exclusion of everything else. Mega-million dollar contracts make headlines and controversy, good deeds do not. The media will not change, they will continue to make a big deal — a controversy — about "greedy players and outrageous salaries."
Which means that all the kids that idolize those players and wanna be like them keep on hearing about the millions they make, yet they cannot afford to buy the shoes he endorses or the jersey he wears, probably not even the same hairdo. Kids wanna be like their heroes, so if all they hear about is mega-million dollar salaries and Reebok contracts they will — misguidedly — assume it is just about money and those kids will go out and get money ... any way they can.
Super athletes need to learn how to show off their humanity as well as their muscle. Take a look at the likes of Tiger Woods, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Dave Winfield, Wayne Gretzky ... or even closer to home: Alan Page, Jim Marshall, Karl Kassulke, Bill "Boom Boom" Brown, Oscar Reed, or Cris Carter.
All of these stars have one thing in common. They quietly participate in, or create, charitable programs designed to help uplift the quality of kids' lives. The degree of participation varies from simply showing up for guest appearances — which Jim Marshall still does despite the fact he is fighting prostate cancer, and which Karl Kassulke still does despite the fact that he has been confined to a wheel chair for more than two decades — to creating foundations that provide money and logistical support to thousands of children. Which, reportedly, Woods and McGwire and Sosa and Gretzky and Page — to name a few — all do.
Okay. I know all you athletes are pretty sharp and you are all doing a great job, but you are not doing a complete job. I personally know that a lot of you have great, giving hearts and do things that would be make Christ proud ... but even Christ made sure his miracles were witnessed and publicized.
Does that mean each NFL player should go out and hire a publicist to spread the good word? Definitely not. That would be the worst thing they could do. The media would go nuts if they were constantly "harassed" by hundreds of PR guys trying to get "feel good" coverage for their player.
The situation looks pretty bleak for the players. It may seem like they can't win. But already in existence are mechanisms and organizations that can and should do that job for them.
Just for the sake of argument, let's use the Alan Page Foundation as a role model and example (not bad since it has raised millions of bucks for college tuition money for needy kids). Also, Page is a former NFL legend who is bound to be resentful of all the bad press the current players are getting.
If I were Alan Page I would have a Hero of the Year Banquet, invite the media, and give out at least four awards — Contributing Athlete of the Year Award (for the jock who gave the most money to the Page Foundation), Participating Athlete of the Year Award (for the jock who put in the most time and effort for the Page Foundation), and Corporation of the Year Award (the company who kicked in the most bucks) and Individual of the Year Award.
This would give recognition for the good deeds of jocks, corporations and individuals, and would also help promote Page's great foundation. Win, win.
If I were the mass media in general, I would cover this big-time as an opportunity to balance out all the negative reporting done about pro athletes, thus making the reporters and editors look like they are not just bent on bad-mouthing jocks, but caring professionals who care about others and prove it by providing balanced coverage. Win, win.
And, finally, if I were Randy Moss I would publicly announce that I would tithe my salary — say five or 10 percent of my salary and put that money into charitable groups like the Alan Page Foundation. Groups that are devoted to truly helping needy kids. And then make an effort to attend a few fund-raisers for Page. Think of how that would neutralize all the bad press coming out about Moss. Win, win.
Think about how the kids' ears would perk up when they hear that millions of bucks might actually be coming their way. You might only get money to a few thousand of those kids , but you would give hope to hundreds of thousands — hope to those same hundreds of thousands who now are unaware that you care about anyone except yourself.
If this pattern were to begin in Minneapolis, it would start popping up all over the continent; other charitable organizations would hold their own banquets/awards ceremonies, and jocks would be clamoring to get some of that good press. And the kids in the surrounding neighborhoods would have some hope, some sense of awareness that they do not have to resort to desperate acts to "make it."
That there is a better way and millionaires are trying to help.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Skip Heine is a nationally awarded photographer, regionally awarded writer, and was twice nominated for The Pulitzer Prize in News Photography. Email him at: email@example.com.