The Athlete As Hero

Generally speaking our athletes aren’t terribly heroic, though we don’t seem to have figured that out yet. We place them on a pedestal and watch their every move with interest. But many of them are greedy and self-absorbed and often given to flirtations with the law — not the kind of people we want our kids to turn into.  But there are some interesting exceptions, one of which is Phil Mickelson.

This week’s Sports Illustrated Golf special promoting the upcoming “Players” golf tournament has a very interesting article on Mickelson and the number of lives he has touched with his charitable works — quietly and unobtrusively behind the scenes without drawing attention to himself. That’s a real hero. He deserves the praise he is sure to get after this article is read by the golfing public, unless they are too worried about their 3:00 P.M. tee-time to read it in the first place. The man, Mickelson, does immense good with his money instead of spending it all on himself; he gives much of it to those who need it more.

It all started in 2003, apparently, when his wife nearly died giving birth to his infant son who didn’t breath for seven minutes. During the chaos surrounding those moments, he swore that if they pulled through he would “lead a more purposeful life.” Others have sworn the same thing during moments of crisis, of course, but this man meant it and has kept his promise. He contributes thousands of dollars from his winnings and endorsements to various charities — not just the “First Tee” that so many golfers give to in order to make it possible for kids to learn “life lessons” as they learn to hit golf balls. Mickelson’s charitable giving is not for promotional purposes and it benefits people in genuine need.

One such is David Finn who suffers from a “mitochondrial disorder that has left his limbs shriveled and his mouth unable to form words.” He has become Mickelson’s pal, enjoying genuine interaction with a man with a great deal on his plate. David has attended a number of golf tournaments that Phil played in and the latter has always made a point of noticing the boy’s presence, giving him a moment of his time, and making him feel important and liked.The association with Mickelson has given the boy’s life a huge boost according to his parents. Then there’s the science teacher who attended the Mickelson Exxon Mobil Teachers Academy for a week of intensive science and math instruction along with 600 other teachers, all at Mickelson’s expense, and who became an award-winning teacher as a result. There’s also a soldier who lost his legs when an I.E.D. exploded under his vehicle while he was on duty in Iraq and who now plays golf and lives in a specially designed home provided for by “Homes For Our Troops” funded, in part, by Phil Mickelson. “From the start Mickelson has been a financial supporter and a spokesman. He is also a benefactor to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides college scholarships to the children of fallen special ops personnel.” There is also the young cellist in New Orleans who lives in a home in “The Musicians Village,” one of 72 houses reserved for struggling artists. “Two of the houses were built with money donated by Phil Mickelson. In the days after Katrina he had contributed $250,000 to relief efforts and pledged all of his winnings from the 2006 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which inspired a number of players to do the same. Mickelson was disappointed to finish 15th and earn ‘only’ $81,720.00, so he rounded the number to a quarter mil.”

And, finally, there is the single Dad whose two kids were able to attend “Start Smart, an annual event that Phil Mickelson hosts for about 2,000 kids from lower-income school districts across San Diego county. Mickelson pays for the buses to bring the children to a big-box store” where they purchase school supplies for the upcoming year. “At the end of the day Mickelson picks up the bill, which runs well into six figures.”

Good stuff. A good man, obviously. One who doesn’t fit the stereotype of the rich, spoiled athlete who poses with kids in hospital beds and then goes out and gets another tatoo or buys a new car and some more jewelry. Mickelson has obviously touched the lives of a number of people with genuine needs, and he deserves praise — though from what I have read, he doesn’t want it.  If there were more like Mickelson — and surely there are a few more — then athletes would deserve the hero status we give them in this country, not because they are great athletes, but because they are good people.

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4 thoughts on “The Athlete As Hero

  1. I like the concept of “living a more purposeful life.” What a great role model. And I would have known nothing about it without your post. Thanks for the education…

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