NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley made headlines in 1993 when filming a commercial in which he said, “I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” As a rule, it's most certainly true, especially when examples such as Michael Vick come to mind, that athletes should not be role models. But there is at least one notable exception to that rule.
As a parent of a child who loves to play and watch baseball, who is also an avid Cubs fan, I have become increasingly impressed with Anthony Rizzo, and how he conducts himself on and off the field. He has developed a reputation for being as good a person as he is an MLB star.
This gift a few days ago from Rizzo’s foundation to Lurie’s Children’s hospital, was in Rizzo’s words, “bigger than winning a World Series.”
As a childhood survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Rizzo’s generosity of time and spirit in visiting with terminally ill children has become as well-known as his accomplishments in the MLB. He has written that “my grandmother is a big reason why I do what I do now off the field.” He and his grandmother battled cancer together prior to her passing in 2008.
Selfless gestures are not unusual for Rizzo. There was this incident with umpire Angel Hernandez that accidentally got caught on video, unintentionally illustrating Rizzo’s great sportsmanship and class.
Not all of Rizzo’s efforts are so high profile either. This was the incident in which he helped a 12 year old victim of brutal beating. He showed kindness and attention to this child and the child’s family, simply because he heard the story making the rounds on the Chicagoland news circuit.
But what I find most impressive are the smaller, more everyday efforts that Rizzo regularly makes, that highlight his good character, and the kind of person he is. These are the kinds of actions that are more ordinary and can’t be cynically explained away as PR stunts, actions that are clearly consistent with how Rizzo conducts himself on an ongoing basis.
In a world that feels increasingly crazy and divisive, it’s encouraging to know that people like this still exist, let alone sports figures. Furthermore, children who play sports inevitably still look up to pro athletes, so as a parent it's comforting to know that good people in sports are still out there. Anthony Rizzo is a role model, and he would be, regardless of what he did for a living.
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