I was walking down the hallway of my apartment complex the other day and turned to walk into the elevator where I joined a kid who must have been 12 or 13 years old waiting for me to jump on to head downstairs. I had seen him before in our complex so I figure he lives in my building somewhere. He was holding a football and was wearing an Adrian Peterson jersey.
So I asked him, "Nice jersey. Is AP your favorite player?"
"Yep, the guy is my hero", he responded.
"Wow, that’s cool….he’s one of the best", was my response.
"The guy is sick…..I hope they play this season though…..it’d suck if there wasn’t any football this year", he said as he ran out the elevator towards the park up the street.
My first impression was that it was still pretty cool that the kid was going to play football considering football season is over. Then I figured it was a little strange that there is an A.P. fan in San Diego. Then it was "Hero?", I mean it’s hard for me to look back and remember exactly how I felt about players when I was his age but the notion caught me off-guard a little.
It’s a completely different outlook towards players and coaches once you get close to their age and then even older than a lot of the guys on the team. I don’t have that same "awe" that I did when I was watching Derrick Thomas when I was a kid so I understand his idolization of A.P.
That got me thinking. There is an entire generation of kids that are growing up knowing this mess of the CBA. How does this affect their perception of their heroes, or idols? I also really struggle with the notion of labeling a football player as a hero, unless of course, it’s one of my own personal heroes. I’m not saying that they can’t be heroes to these kids but my old age :) has since changed my definition.
Ask any Chiefs fan who Harry Holland and Lance Perkins are and you might find one or two Chief historians that can put it together. The majority of people out there would not remember who these two boys were. They lived in Monroe, Louisiana in June of 1983 and they both drowned in a fatal accident, along with the Rookie of the year and Pro-Bowl Running back of the Kansas City Chiefs, Joe Delaney. Delaney died trying to rescue these two boys after they were seen struggling in a pond.
"I can’t swim good," Joe said to the other people that were in the park and watching what was happening, "but I’ve got save those kids. If I don’t come up, get somebody." He yelled as he rushed into the water.
There had been three boys and Delaney was able to get to one and help him get to safer parts of this pond. He then went back after the other two boys that hadn’t been seen for a few seconds. Delaney, along with those two boys never made it out of that pond alive.
I know that most of us know the story of Joe Delaney but I don’t think enough people know the story of Joe Delaney. This was a guy that was at the top of his game and was entering the prime of his career. Without a flinch or a second thought, he reacted in a way in which a hero would. There is no greater act in the world than what Joe Delaney demonstrated that day. He put others before himself and lost his life trying to help complete strangers.
I take nothing away from the players of today and the idea that children look up to them as heroes. I have accepted the idea that it’s the responsibility of people to make sure that guys like Joe Delaney are never forgotten. We have spent a few months discussing the terrible sides of these owners and players and we have demonized them in a way that I hope doesn’t linger on to the football fans of the next generation.
I don’t believe that players have to use their fame or fortune to promote a just cause in their hometown or community. But I am glad when players use their platform of success on the football field, or baseball field, or whatever the particular platform may be, to enrich their community or show a little bit of Joe Delaney in them. The "putting others before yourself" philosophy that I’ve taken away from the sacrifice that Delaney made that June day in 1983.
So while I sit here and try not to get mad at the players or owners for this mess that they’ve created for themselves I tried to bring a little light to this darkness. I used the platform available to me to promote something that I think they everyone should know and be aware. There has been so much negativity on both sides of the aisle that we do need to remember that a generation of impressionable football fans are seeing and hearing their idols bicker on a public stage. Good things have come and will continue to come from the current NFL players and we need to remember the good while we continue to discuss all the bad.
Let’s take a lesson from the past and remember to pass along the stories of our heroes to the next generation so they are never forgotten. I tell people the story of Joe Delaney whenever it’s relevant and I will be sure to tell my kids of a football player that had been a hero to me.