Football is a violent and exciting sport, played at the professional level by exceptionally gifted athletes – modern day gladiators if you will. In Roman times people would fill the Coliseum; today, fans flock to stadiums all over the country to watch NFL, college and even high school football games.
Football continues to grow in popularity and a large reason why can be attributed to the number of people that play fantasy football – where touchdowns, tackles (for IDP players) and stats matter. In 2010, it was estimated that over 32 million people 12 years of age or older in Canada and the United States played fantasy sports – rest assured a very large portion were people that played fantasy football. In addition, while the report does not estimate how many kids played fantasy sports, the number is probably larger than you think.
What gets lost while you are tracking stats for your fantasy teams, rooting for your favorite player, and praying your team to victory, is that NFL players are much more than the stats and records they compile while playing the game. After battling for sixty minutes, you will find many players shaking hands, conversing, and even huddling together in prayer – a show of sportsmanship and respect to their fellow competitors. Many give back to their communities, and devote time to work with kids.
During the summer, between OTAs and training camp many NFL athletes attend football camps as guest instructors. On June 25th and 26th, I attended one such camp, the 19th annual William & Mary Colonial All-Pro Football Camp, where many NFL players have been guest instructors. Some big names have been Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson, Michael Strahan, Brian Urlacher, the late Junior Seau and former William & Mary alum Darren Sharper.
While at the camp, I spoke with many of the campers’ parents and grandparents – learning that those at the camp not only played football and were excited to meet the camp’s guest instructors – Tim Tebow, Larry Fitzgerald and Victor Cruz, but that many of them also played fantasy football.
One father, Scott Wingfield, said he and his three sons, Andrew (12), Jack (8) and Luke (6) all play in multiple fantasy leagues. Scott is in four leagues (family, neighborhood, work and college), while his sons play in two (family and neighborhood). He said it is a great way to keep in touch with friends, and a way for his sons to learn about the players as well as being able to follow their favorite players.
With football being such a prominent sport in our society it’s no wonder football players can ascend to “rock-star” status. Tim Tebow is one of the biggest “rock-stars” in the NFL. Tribe football coach Jimmye Laycock surmised that Tebow’s attendance as a guest instructor contributed to the camp selling out as quickly as it did.
Coming off a year where he started the final 11 games of the regular season – going 7-5 with five comeback wins, as well as leading the Denver Broncos to an overtime win against the Steelers in the playoffs, he now finds himself as the backup to Mark Sanchez with the New York Jets. Backup or not, Tebow still has tons of fans – with Jacob Slagle, a 10 year old starting QB for the Spring Run Huskies being one of them. Slagle’s parents, Bryan and Dawn said that their son is a straight-A student, hard worker and very faithful. They also said he has read Tebow’s book (Through My Eyes), and tries to model himself after his favorite NFL player.
Like it or not athletes and celebrities are role models, and we would all be much better off if they embraced it like Tebow, Fitzgerald and Cruz.
When asked how he felt about Larry Fitzgerald saying, “We need more people like [him], not just athletes” Tebow seemed sincerely humbled. He said, “It’s very kind, coming from a great person, a great player…someone that always carries himself with so much class and character and integrity, I think that’s huge.”
Fitzgerald may not have the “rock-star” status that Tebow has with the general public, but fantasy players and those that love the game know just how great a WR he is. Fitzgerald turns 29 on August 31st, and he has 325 receptions, 2,912 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns more than what Jerry Rice did before Rice turned 29.
In response to having better stats than Rice, Fitzgerald said – “I got a long way to go..., He had two Super Bowl rings already though…you gotta win…it’s a nice footnote, but we all play for the rings.”
Fitzgerald and Cruz both had a lot to say about being role models. “It’s a great experience for me, I love being with kids it’s something I’m very passionate about,” said Fitzgerald. “I mean you got to invest in them [kids],I think it’s important to come out here and show them that you care um you know it’d be easy for me to go you know sit at home and not participate but I wanted to be here and desired to be here.” You don’t have to be a veteran of eight NFL seasons, like Fitzgerald, to understand the platform that you have as an NFL player. “It’s huge, I mean we’re you know we’re role models whether we want to be it or not so it’s either you embrace it and you know be a part of it and talk to kids and really embrace that aspect or you don’t,” said Cruz. “I feel like I’m a guy that you know I was a kid and I would’ve loved for a guy like you know, maybe you got Michael Irvin or somebody to come and talk to me when I was that age. So it’s definitely now that I’m in position to do so, I want to do the best I can.”
While Tebow and Fitzgerald were the guest instructors on Monday, it was Cruz – a Super Bowl winner, and one of just 20 players in NFL history to have over 1,500 yards receiving in a season – that had the stage all to himself on Tuesday.
Many of the campers wanted to see Cruz do his celebratory touchdown dance. After catching a pass from Cruz, one of the younger campers put the ball on the field and emulated the salsa dance that Cruz performs after he scores a touchdown. Cruz was the first one to congratulate him and give him a high-five.
Fitzgerald summed it up best when he said, “We all play for the rings,” but I am sure he along with Tebow, Cruz, the William & Mary coaching staff, the Tribe players and everyone else would agree – at camp, it’s all about the kids!
So when you are watching a game, and either rooting for a touchdown because you want your favorite NFL team to win, or because you need another catch, tackle or five yards rushing to win your fantasy game – remember that there is more to these guys than just touchdowns, tackles and stats.