Heather Dowling
June 30, 2013 9:00 am

The media has been blowing up with headlines about the arrest of NFL star tight-end Aaron Hernandez. He has been charged with the murder of his friend, 27-year-old semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. The speculated motive: Hernandez caught Lloyd talking to people who Hernandez said he “had troubles with” at a nightclub in Boston.

This isn’t the first time Hernandez has been linked to serious and dangerous crimes, and as the story unfolds, it seems that more bad business is being uncovered.

This story is sadly familiar to sports fans, for sure. Hernandez, a star athlete at 23, just a year after signing a $40 million contract with the New England Patriots, turns out to be the worst sort of villain, someone deserving of fear and scorn, certainly not fans. It sickens and saddens me as a fan, and even more so as a human being.

So, I want to talk about something else, about someone else. I want to shine the light on some of the good guys – pro-athletes who use their talent, their success and their high profile to make a difference that makes the world better.

Drew Brees: NFL, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

Brees has been a two-time NFL Offensive player of the year , and a Super Bowl Champion, but there’s no way to measure the champion he has been for the communities he has called home over the years.

He is best known for the incredible contributions and hard work he put in to the post-hurricane Katrina recovery of New Orleans, his new home as he joined the Saints in 2006.

“Drew immediately became involved in Hurricane Katrina recovery and in 2007 announced a partnership with Operation Kids, in an attempt to rebuild and recreate academic facilities as well as parks, playgrounds, athletic centers, after school and mentoring programs,” writes Michael Cecchin of Pros Give Back. “By revitalizing and restoring child care projects and facilities in New Orleans, Brees instantly became a fan favorite and hero amongst Saints fans.”

But even before becoming a Saint, he was being a saint with his foundation. Per their mission statement, the Brees Dream Foundation was created to “Improve the quality of life for cancer patients, and provide care, education and opportunities for children and families in need.” To date, the foundation has raised and contributed more than 17 million dollars and continues to expand.

Clayton Kershaw: MLB, Pitcher, LA Dodgers

With only 7 years in pro-baseball so far, this young man is making a serious impact on the game. In 2011, he became the youngest pitcher since Dwight Gooden in 1985 to win the Cy Young Award, Gold Glove Award, and the Pitching Triple Crown in one year. As of 2013, his 2.69 career ERA is the lowest among starting pitchers with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched.

Crenshaw’s impact reaches beyond the baseball diamond, however. He partnered with his wife, Ellen, to write a book called “Arise” and created Krenshaw’s Challenge, “with the goal of encouraging people to make a difference by giving back to at-risk children and communities in need…helping in any way you can wherever you are.” As a result, the couple was able to fund the building and operation of an orphanage in Zambia called “Hope’s Home,” name after 11-year-old Hope, an HIV-positive child Kershaw met while in Zambia.

Last year, Kershaw was awarded the MLB’s Roberto Clemente Award given each year to the player who, according to fans and the media, “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”

Tim Duncan: NBA, Power Forward/Center, San Antonio Spurs

Duncan is an extraordinary athlete and team player, for sure. He is a four-time NBA champion, two-time NBA MVP, three-time NBA Finals MVP, and even won the NBA Rookie of the Year. Many argue that he is the best Power Forward to ever play the game. Off the court, he still acts as a “power forward” through his charity, the Tim Duncan Foundation.

It’s really tough to find all of the details about the good works that have built his reputation, as he keeps his life outside of the NBA so very private. It was really well put by Iceberg Slim – yes, a blogger – when he said, “This post is about a guy who for all intents and purposes, might be the Tom Brady of the NBA. A guy who, while America cries a river over all the showboating, tattoos, and hip hop culture of the league, he embodies the quintessential virtues of ‘American Values’ – humility, a blue collar work ethic, and quiet consistency.”

Per Wikipedia, his foundation’s major events have included the Tim Duncan Bowling for Dollars Charity Bowl-A-Thon and the Slam Duncan Charity Golf Classic. These events raised more than $350,000 for breast and prostate cancer research In 2001 and 2002 Duncan was named by Sporting News as one of the “Good Guys” in sports. The Spurs captain also supports the Children’s Bereavement Center, the Children’s Center of San Antonio and the Cancer Therapy and Research Center.

After stewing in the Hernandez coverage all week, and remembering countless other ills at the hands of could-be heroes, I had to find another reason to be a fan.

Certainly, there are many other athletes deserving of recognition for the good works and causes they support. But, I at least wanted to show a little love to three guys playing in three of the biggest games on the planet right now and say, “Thanks, for giving us a reason to feel good about watching.”

Images courtesy of Sports Illustrated, VinScullyisMyHomeboy & Zanda

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