I never paid much attention to Charles Barkley. A few years ago when he announced that he was no “role model,” I was ambivalent. Let him be or not be anything he wants, but thanks for the warning.
A couple events over the last few days, however, changed my attitude. Barkley, you big arrogant galoot, it is your obligation to set a good example for kids. Live up to your responsibility!
Here’s what happened.
The Browns brought in peewee football teams to run plays at halftime of their two home pre-season games, a nice thought which might have backfired. The 10-year-olds looked better than the Browns. This past Saturday night, the fans cheered for the first time when one of the kids ran in for a touchdown. This, however, is not the point.
When one of the kids scored a touchdown he spiked the ball, instead of tossing it to the official. The week before, a kid flipped the ball away and pointed toward the stands.
They’re emulating what they see on television, for pete’s sake. The kids copy their heroes. When the pros act pompous and arrogant and self-promoting, the kids think that’s the accepted way.
Well, it isn’t. Players pulling down millions of dollars a year for playing sports, should not abdicate their duty as Charles Barkley did. Pro athletes are role models and it’s time they acknowledged that.
And then Tuesday, Browns wide receiver Steve Sanders invited a dozen or so football players from his alma mater, East High, to Browns camp on the final day of two-a-days, where he surprised them by giving them brand new Reebok football cleats.
To kids from that neighborhood, it was like giving them each a brand new Cadillac.
Sanders recalled that Browns’ cornerback Cory Fuller did the same thing back in 1999. He lugged a big box of shoes over to East 79th and Superior and passed them out to the 21 kids on the East High football team.
“They were orange shoes, the Browns’ colors. The East High colors are blue and gold,” said Sanders. “But we wore them proudly. I’ll never forget it.”
Sanders wore those shoes for two years, and the second year, his senior year, the East High Blue Bombers, 21 players strong, qualified for the state playoffs in Division II and narrowly lost a gallant game at Avon Lake.
“He was our wide receiver, cornerback, quarterback; he was everything for our team,” said East coach Marzell Pink, who was an assistant coach on that staff.
Sanders also was grateful.
If one of these East High players ever hits the jackpot, maybe he can emulate Sanders’ gratitude. Wouldn’t it be nice to initiate a cycle of gratitude and break the cycle of indifference?
Dan Coughlin is a sports columnist for The Chronicle
and a sportscaster for TV-8. Contact him at 329-7135