I have always blown up sports to mean far more than they should. When I root for a team, I don't just look at the talent on the floor, I want to respect the way they reached their status. I get overly dramatic when I feel players or teams have taken shortcuts to achieve their success.
When I cheer for an athlete, I want to be able to cheer for the person as well. I know this is silly... but honestly so are sports. Collectively, we pay billions of dollars to watch grown men and women play the games we played as children. But who cares? It is entertainment. Isn't watching an actor in a movie just paying to see them "play dress-up"? We are allowed to be a little silly in our pursuits of entertainment.
Walter Payton may be the only athlete who has ever lived up to my ridiculously lofty criteria for true greatness.
For some reason, I have always had ridiculously high expectations for my favorite athletes. On the court, field, or ice, I want them to work hard, be unselfish, never quit, show excellent sportsmanship, be classy and respectful, be humble and to do it all honestly. Off the court, I want them to not only be model citizens, but use their fame and fortune to help others. In short, despite what Charles Barkley thinks, I want them to be excellent role models.
I know that is kind of a tall order. Come to think of it, I'm not sure if any player has ever lived up to these ridiculously lofty expectations (aside from Walter Payton, for whom the NFL's citizenship award is named). As a result, I often have to separate athlete's performance from the person. I still can't possibly cheer for a criminal or a cheater, but sometimes I just need to accept that I am not paying to watch these super-humans visit hospitals and write giant checks.
Although nothing Anthony Rizzo ever does on a field will be nearly as important as what he does to help kids, his athletic greatness is the source of the money he donates and the awe he inspires when he visits a kid who needs a boost.
Perhaps it is because I am a special education teacher and I spend my day trying to help level the playing field for kids while trying to instill in them the virtue of hard work, but I get really bent out of shape when I see athletes cheating or taking the easy way out. These athletes are already blessed with nearly supernatural talent, why feel the need to cheat? I know there is an old adage that says, "If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying." (just ask Bill Bellichick) but that simply drives me nuts.
As a result, back in 2010, I lost every ounce of respect I had for the most physically gifted athlete I had ever seen: LeBron James.
I will always refer to this as the pep rally for nothing.
When he chose the easy way out, destroyed competitive balance in the NBA (remember he blazed the trail and did this many years before Kevin Durant and many others followed suit), and "took his talents to South Beach", I was shocked. He had just competed in the finals. How could he want to destroy his legacy and show that he wasn't tough enough to do things the hard way?
Once he arrived in Miami, it got worse. Perhaps he had behaved this way while in Cleveland, but I certainly don't remember it while I was rooting for him to win a championship despite the fact he was a direct competitor of my beloved Chicago Bulls. Of course, the despicable behavior of which I write is:
LeBron winked at the camera after tricking the referees into calling a foul on this play.
Or as I prefer to think of it:
I will never forget one particular play when LeBron pretended to be fouled by Derrick Rose. After getting the call, as he ran down the court, he winked at the camera. He winked. Not only had he cheated he was proud of it.
LeBron flopped so much that an internet craze sprung up with people "LeBronning" in public places. It was hilarious... yet sad.
And he didn't stop.
He still hasn't and it makes me sick.
Millions of kids watch him. He is the most physically gifted athlete I have ever seen and yet he cheats. What message does that send kids who will never have the talent in any area that he has in basketball? If you aren't good enough to earn it... cut whatever corners you need in order to achieve your goals.
So on the court, Lebron drives me insane. I would never want my children to comport themselves the way he does.
However, off the court, perhaps LeBron is indeed The G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time).
Off the court, LeBron may be the G.O.A.T.
LeBron has donated a staggering amount of money and time to many charities.
He started After-School All-Stars for children in Akron Ohio. The program provides academic help and extra-curricular activities for at-risk children. It is not a temporary band-aid. Lebron's foundation has raised over $40 million to provide college scholarships for kids who remain in the program and graduate from it. The first graduating class is only 3 years away.
Forty. Million. Dollars.
LeBron also donated $2.5 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
He also contributes to the Children's Defense Fund and ONEXONE. The former's goal is to "be a voice for children’s rights and make sure that all children are treated equally and fairly." The latter' mission "includes taking care of children by helping them with the 5 pillars: hunger, health, education, water and play."
Heck even the infamous "Decision" interview raised over $6 million for charities including the Boys and Girls club.
He's not taking that pile of money. That is what he is leaving in order to help kids in Ohio.
Earlier this week, LeBron James may have set a new gold standard for philanthropy.
On July 30, 2018,
LeBron James opened a freaking school!
The I Promise school is no ordinary school. It is a public school that is geared toward helping kids who are "under-performing in reading, math and other essential academic areas." The school day and year is longer than most schools. Students attend Monday through Friday from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. The school year lasts from July through May. In other words, kids work longer and harder in order to achieve success. No short cuts here. The kids are all provided a healthy breakfast and lunch. The services extend to the parents and caregivers of the children who will have access to G.E.D. programs as well as a food pantry.
When a child graduates from the program, he/she will have a college scholarship waiting for him/her.
Eeven the slogan is The G.O.A.T.
This guy is dedicated to helping kids and puts his money where his mouth is.
Speaking of mouths...
One of my favorite quotes of all time is
Well LeBron does not remain silent. He uses his platform to speak out against injustice when he sees it. I know some people would prefer that athletes just stick to dribbling. However, if you believe in the message of Edmund Burke's quote, how can one simply "shut up and dribble"?
In fact, the on-court G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan is famous for avoiding saying anything that would alienate his customer base. Yet LeBron does not. For that, he will always have my respect.
I can't say I will ever be able to cheer for LeBron when he is donning his jersey of the month, but I sure as hell would give him a standing ovation when he visits children's hospitals and writes giant checks.
I guess LeBron may be The G.O.A.T after all... where it really matters.
No easy way out here. LeBron has earned that crown as The King... of philanthropy.