I watch a lot of SportsCenter, but not nearly as much as I used to. Too many times on this campus, I have filled out a questionnaire on the first day of class and informed my teacher that yes, it is my favorite show on television. I think differently now, however, for a number of reasons.
One of them is the array of distaste across the world of sports. Tattoos ruin perfect seasons, steroids rip apart record books and fake girlfriends, well, they seem to wreck everything. Any day that passes by without an assault charge or a recruiting violation is a good day in the sports world. Unfortunately, those days don’t happen as often as they should, or at least as often as they used to.
Too many stories involve athletes and programs linked to some sort of wrongdoing. One day, it’s Jerry Sandusky, the next, it’s Lance Armstrong.
I understand juicy stories are novel and tend to fill the press, but they leave a cloudy aura over the sports world. The truth is – at least the starry-eyed aspiring athlete I once was would like to believe – there are many virtuous athletes out there, but there could be more.
For every Alex Rodriguez linked to performance-enhancing drugs, there needs to be more Derek Jeters in the same infield, clean as a whistle. For every Michael Vick or O.J. Simpson, there needs to be more Greg Jenningses.
I say Greg Jennings because I had the pleasure of interviewing him this past October at an annual gala put on by the organization Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Dane County. As a Packer fan myself, my first words came out a bit segmented and short, but Jennings was soon less than intimidating – he is not the biggest guy.
He has a big heart, though.
He was there because he was not only representing The Greg Jennings Foundation, his personal charity organization, but he was also the guest speaker for the charity event.
Injured and questionable on the field, Jennings had left Green Bay after a day’s worth of practice, jumped on a plane and headed to Madison. After a quick ride to the Madison Concourse Hotel, Jennings arrived to find some of his favorite people, the media.
Although the media members were limited, a Wisconsin State Journal writer interviewed him about his nagging quadriceps injury, a topic he was well-versed in and likely more than annoyed with. We’re a relentless bunch, the sports media.
Nonetheless, Jennings moved on to pictures – a seemingly endless line of them.
Jennings posed for an entire hour, without a break, with fans, big brothers, little brothers, big sisters and little sisters. He greeted and smiled for 60 minutes. Try doing that; it isn’t easy.
Jennings went out of his way, during an injury-plagued season, travelling on an incredibly busy schedule to meet, greet and help people he will probably never see again.
He preached his tagline, “be great.” He told people to be great in everything they do, because he tries to be great in everything he does. He tries to be the greatest person he can be, long before he tries to be the best player he can be. The sports world could use some more people like Greg Jennings.
It could use some more people like Alexis Mitchell, too.
Mitchell, best known on campus for her above-the-net lifestyle as a senior volleyball player this season, also lives above the call of duty in the Madison community. Mitchell serves as an event coordinator for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, a group that promotes and guides community service projects for University of Wisconsin student-athletes in Madison.
She was originally just a voting representative for the volleyball team, but that wasn’t enough. Mitchell, who had already volunteered many times with multiple programs, wanted to volunteer even more and lead some of the projects.
“The community gives so much to the Athletic Department, whether it’s just attending games or donating,” Mitchell explained as her main reason for getting involved. “Whether it’s visiting kids at the children’s hospital or collecting food for a hunger fight – just so long as we’re out there in the community and we’re not just being athletes.”
Yes, there is more to these people than their physical abilities and Greek God-like physique. I was pleasantly relieved in finding this out firsthand.
When the “Snowpocalypse” hit during fall semester final exams, the woefully helpless students like me, who (because of lacking funds) were forced to park our vehicles on residential streets, became quickly swamped with more than a foot of snow.
The impending plow trucks and below-freezing temperatures left our cars forsaken by chunks of snow and ice. Lacking a shovel and a good friend, I was in for a workout. People walked by with shovels but no one offered to join the effort. I was wasting gas and energy before a former walk-on football player stopped and asked if I needed any help. He wasn’t even wearing gloves.
That former walk-on, entitled to many things on this campus from his days as a football player, felt I was entitled to getting my car out of its icy environment as easily as possible. It was a simple act that went a long way.
The sports world could use a few more acts of greatness that don’t necessarily involve alley-oops and double plays. A few more athletes like Jennings, Mitchell and the former walk-on would go a long way. It would give me a reason to watch SportsCenter again. I’d really like that.
Sean is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts. What do you think of particular athletes in the world of sports? Let him know with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sean_zak.