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Ron Cook: Sports allegiances take back seat to the common good

UPDATED: Sun., April 12, 2020

Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, shown here after a football game in Cincinnati last December, donated 750,000 meals in Tampa, Fla., to contribute to the relief effort against the coronavirus. (Frank Victores / Associated Press)
Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, shown here after a football game in Cincinnati last December, donated 750,000 meals in Tampa, Fla., to contribute to the relief effort against the coronavirus. (Frank Victores / Associated Press)
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tom Brady and his wife, Gisele Bundchen, made a nice first impression in Tampa, donating 750,000 meals to aid in the relief effort during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brady also announced earlier this month that he was partnering with private aviation company Wheels Up to provide 10 million meals through Feeding America.

Robert Kraft sent the Patriots’ private jet to China to bring back 1.2 million N95 protective masks to Massachusetts. “We want to give hope here at this time that we’re all banding together and trying to do what’s right and put anyone’s selfish interests to the side and come together to help one another,” Kraft told NBC 10 in Boston.

Does that change your opinion of Brady and Kraft?

I didn’t think so.

Once a villain, always a villain, right?

Doesn’t Justin Verlander know that? He and his wife, Kate Upton, announced he will donate his paychecks this baseball season – if there is a season – to different non-profits to aid those fighting the pandemic. He is scheduled to make $33 million. You would think he is being lauded universally, but he has received plenty of criticism for being just another rich-guy cheater on the Houston Astros.

“I thought about doing the same thing with my paychecks but then I remember that I don’t already have millions in the bank . whew . good thing I didn’t,” someone tweeted at Verlander.

What a sick world we live in for reasons that go beyond the coronavirus.

I don’t care that we are talking about rich athletes and richer owners. We still should take a moment to recognize so many good things that are going on in sports during the pandemic. So many good people are stepping up to help.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has pledged more than $25 million to a variety of coronavirus-related causes. So what if he’s the richest owner in sports with an estimated net worth, according to Forbes Magazine, of $52.7 billion? That will help a lot of people. Falcons owner Arthur Blank is donating $5.4 million in relief funds through his foundation. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has kicked in $1.5 million.

Many players – far too many to mention individually – also should be making bigger news because of their generosity. J.J. Watt stands out as one of the great humanitarians in sports history. He is donating $350,000 to a Houston food bank to provide over one million meals after he and his foundation raised nearly $42 million to help the Houston area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Drew Brees is donating $5 million to deliver meals to the needy in Louisiana. Stephon Marbury has a long history of community service and is donating 10 million masks to New York City hospitals. Joel Embiid is donating $500,000 for medical relief funds in Philadelphia. Malcolm Butler said it best about an athlete’s role to help those on the frontlines during these frightening times: “We are on the sideline now, and they are in the game. So we should be there to support those people and do everything we can. Every hand helps.”

We’ve seen wonderful work in Pittsburgh. The Penguins organization and players were among the first to provide meals to frontline workers, make sure employees at PPG Paints Arena were paid and donate 500 backpacks to students in need. Jameson Taillon organized a number of Pirates to buy pizzas for medical workers. Mike Tomlin’s wife, Kiya, has been making masks for area hospitals.

“If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on this earth,” Roberto Clemente once said.

And how about a hand for creativity? Jameis Winston launched a COVID-19 hotline. Bills general manager Brandon Beane is auctioning off a chance to be on the phone with him when he announces the team’s first pick in the NFL draft later this month. And my favorite: Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff, reacting to widespread criticism of the team’s new logo, agreed to read “mean tweets” from fans if $2 million was raised to help in the fight against coronavirus. So it was that he stood in front of cameras after $2.3 million was pledged and read, “If you’re low on toilet paper, don’t worry. You can get it now on NFL shop. #ramslogo.”

Is that cool or what?

So many more amazing things are going on that haven’t been publicized.

Sure, there are bad people in sports just as there are bad people in every occupation, every community, every spot on Earth. Unfortunately, those sports figures get too much attention. There are many more good people in the sports world. This seems like the right time to stand up and applaud them.

There might never be a better time.

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