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Sports Team Seeking Player With Maturity

By Yong-Yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

When is it time for boys to stop acting like boys and be men? In America, where sports players can instantly become heroes to thousands, one might expect them to feel a sense of responsibility to their fans. After all, there are few role models more important than a childhood hero. Sadly, one of demons of fame, a sense of entitlement, quickly reduces sportsmen to amateurs and men to boys.

Take Eli Manning and his entire family.

This past weekend, Eli was projected to be the number one pick overall in the NFL draft. Instead of being elated about it, Eli and his father Archie Manning both were antsy about where Eli was about to go. They didn’t want Eli to play for the San Diego Chargers. And they made all sorts of threats to express their distaste of the situation.

They said that Eli would be willing to sit out the entire season and enter the draft the following year to be picked by another team. Eli almost demanded a trade from San Diego to be with the New York Giants, the next team in line who was interested in a quarterback. There was a ton tension over this guy, but for what reason?

Why was Eli Manning big enough of a name that he should get to play wherever he wants, when every other draftee accepts their fate? When you hear interviews after a draft selection, rarely do you ever hear dejection at being picked to be a professional athlete. Many of the athletes have dreams and still have yet to develop their egos.

Perhaps for Eli, his brother’s and his father’s successes mean the expectation of the same from him. He does not want to be the first in the family to fail at football. His name, more than anything, brought him that first draft pick. Many have questioned whether Eli is the best quarterback or the best talent in this year’s crapshoot. Both Phillip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger have been labeled as better gunslingers while Robert Gallery and Sean Taylor have been labeled as better athletes.

But hey, kids will be kids with their egos. I just didn’t expect Archie Manning to still be a kid.

This isn’t the first time something this crazy has happened in professional drafts. Several years ago in the NBA, Steve Francis (who was an attendant of my high school) came out of the University of Maryland, expecting to be drafted by an organization to his liking. Instead, he was taken by the then flailing Vancouver Grizzlies, and immediately displayed his displeasure on draft day. Of course his draft rights were traded to the Rockets and everything has been calm since then.

But this just shows how immature athletes can be. We don’t really think about it, until someone steps out to demonstrate what real role models do. Role models don’t bicker over petty quibbles. Role models care about the audience that they are playing for. Role models care about more than just the game and themselves.

Pat Tillman was a role model.

At the young age of 27, Tillman died last week serving for his country in Afghanistan. And what was amazing about Tillman was that he actually left his million of dollars in contract money with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army Rangers. He was in the prime of his career, and yet he gave all of that up to protect his country.

Tillman certainly did not quibble about which pick in the draft he should be. He didn’t worry about where to play, although playing in Arizona was what he wanted, being a graduate of Arizona State. He didn’t care that he was going to put himself directly in the face of danger.

Pat is just one example among many of the people serving the armed forces in foreign countries, doing battle and suffering through immense turmoil. We don’t see them on TV as often as we will see Eli Manning or Steve Francis. But perhaps what they stand for is far better than what those two children do. It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragic death of a celebrity to bring that to our attention, but at least now, we are more aware of it. At least now we can really see the different between boys and men.

I know that we cannot expect everyone to sacrifice their lives for their country with such conviction as Pat Tillman. But maybe it’s time for some of the pro-athletes to begin behaving at least somewhat like the role models that they are to many around the country.