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Some Of The Good Guys

June 7, 2010

Far too often we hear of professional athletes running afoul of the law. The commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, commonly makes headlines when he is handing down a suspension to the Ben Roethlisbergers and the Adam “Pacman” Joneses of the league.

Why don’t we hear more about the players who are using their time, money, and fame to better their communities? Do stories about good people doing good things not sell newspapers or drive page views? Do we stereotype athletes and thus not allow ourselves to see them as the individuals, the fathers, the brothers, or the friends that they are?

When I did some research and looked for stories about athletes doing charity work, I found numerous examples. But I had to dig to find these stories.

Last Sunday was one of those instances of professional athletes giving something back to their community.

Erin Henderson and other Minnesota Vikings players had a BBQ to raise money for the E.J. Henderson Youth Foundation.

Erin Henderson cooking for a good cause

Even though the event was planned quickly and without ample time to properly promote it, Henderson was thankful to those who made it (via Twitter):

It may seem like a lil thing 2 u guys but it meant alot 2 me. 2 c ppl come out on short notice n give their time n $ speaks volumes!less than a minute ago via Echofon

I made the trip out to the BBQ at Lifetime Fitness in Eden Prairie to, among other things, eat some of the great food that Henderson was grilling up. I’ve never been a shy person, and I stayed true to form as I strolled out to the back patio just as the party was beginning. The first person I talked to was Erin Henderson himself, who graciously greeted me and asked me my twitter name, because as he said, he was good with names. (He didn’t even flinch when I told him my Twitter name was “PackerMax.”) He added that he not only remembered who I was, but he knew that I had just recently started following him (I am merely 1 of his 2,277 followers). He told me to enjoy myself and the food and feel free to take photos, tweet, and write about the evening.

I followed his advice and began talking to some fans who shared my passion for football. We talked about who we recognized by face and who we didn’t recognize without their jerseys and helmets. We watched as the Vikings players autographed photos and t-shirts, took pictures with fans, and shared laughs and smiles with the Purple and Gold faithful.

As more players and fans trickled in, it struck me how normal all of this seemed. Other than the fact that the hosts are elite athletes who get paid to play a game they love, they were pretty normal guys. The players greeted one another like family and for the most part chatted and hung out as friends do. After I saw one player sign an obligatory autograph for a young fan, I walked over and introduced myself.

Me: “Hi, I’m Max.”

Him: “I’m Benny. Nice to meet you.”

The Benny I was talking to was Benny Sapp, the undrafted cornerback out of Northern Iowa. I figured everyone was asking these guys about football, so I broached a different subject we evidently shared: tattoos. We talked about his tattoos of his daughters which led to a conversation about his mother who was a teacher, just like me. We spoke for a few minutes and when the conversation concluded, I told him it was nice to meet him, and after he returned the sentiment, I went on my way. I smiled as I walked away, realizing I am officially a Benny Sapp fan. How could you not like a guy who takes the time to meet and talk to his fans?

After a few minutes, I saw another player walk by. I called out, “Hey, Albert. How you doing?” Running back Albert Young turned around, smiled, and returned the question. I told him that I was a Badger alum, and as he feigned a distaste for me and my choice of college, he shared a little known fact about his recruitment history. He told me he was almost a Badger, but there were too many other running backs there at the time. He added that it’s not that he wouldn’t have welcomed the competition, but why would he go to Wisconsin when he could be the feature back at another college? Appreciative of his friendliness, I thanked him for his time and shamelessly plugged my website.

Satisfied and smiling, I decided it was time to go. On my way out, I had the good fortune of running into the hosts of the event, Erin and E.J. Henderson. I thanked them for putting the event together and asked them if they would be interested in getting together and talking about their foundation and the upcoming season. They generously agreed and thanked me for coming.

All in all, I couldn’t have imagined a better Sunday afternoon. I met some great people, rubbed elbows with some players, and enjoyed a beautiful day in Eden Prairie. Henderson said he would like to do more events like this in the future, and I can only hope he does. It’s a pretty unique way to meet some players and it raises money for a great cause. Cheers to all the players and fans who made it out yesterday; you were part of something good.


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