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Score some for the good guys

While a few seem to spoil the bunch, there are still sports figures out there doing some good.

By TOM JONES
Published May 24, 2007


BY TOM JONES Times Staff Writer

Sports fans see and hear the stories every day. This player arrested for drugs. That player arrested for weapons. We have athletes with fighting dogs, teams with scores of arrests. We have players getting drunk and driving or going clubbing and fighting. Just Wednesday, the Times reported the disturbing allegations against Rays rookie Elijah Dukes. It makes you wonder if there are any good guys left in sports. We're happy to report there are. Here's our list of favorite "good guys" with local ties.

Warrick Dunn

He now plays in Atlanta, but the Florida State grad and former Bucs running back is still one of our own. Dunn started the "Homes for the Holidays" program that assists single-mother families in owning their first home by providing down payment assistance and filling the home with everything they need, including furniture, food, linens, lawn mower, gardening supplies, washer, dryer, dishes, pots and pans. To date, the program has helped 57 single mothers and 148 children in Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Baton Rouge, La.

 

The Glazer family

Sure, Bucs fans complain about ownership, but there's no denying that the Glazers, through their Glazer Family Foundation, have one of the biggest hearts in sports. The charity work they do is almost too long to list here, but they provide grant money to nonprofit organizations, provide backpacks to back-to-school programs, free tickets to youth sports teams. In its Cheering You On program, the foundation provides all pediatric patients admitted to seven hospitals in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Orange counties with teddy bears and activity books. They provide books and money to more than 70 west-central Florida libraries. They work with shelters for victims of domestic violence. They have donated nearly $1-million to local amateur athletic activities. They hold an annual Toys for Tots program. Their Gift for Teaching has provided more than $2-million in school supplies. And this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

 

John Tortorella

The Lightning coach and his wife, Christine, remind people that it is easy for some to just write checks, but they implore to do more than that. The Tortorellas ask others to get involved personally, in a more "hands-on" manner. He practices what he preaches, not only raising money for The Children's Home and the Child Abuse Council with his fishing tournament, but also working with Christine, their children and The Lightning Foundation, taking the children on dolphin-watching tours, to local beaches and hosting them in the St. Pete Times Forum for street hockey games. Tortorella was awarded the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay 2005 Award of Excellence in recognition of his service as an outstanding community role model and for his charitable work with bay area children's causes. John and Christine were also honored by The Children's Home with the 2007 Helen Ayala Davis Award for outstanding community service.

Derrick Brooks

The Bucs linebacker has been recognized in the past by the NFL with the prestigious Walter Payton/NFL Man of the Year Award and for good reason. Brooks works with mostly disadvantaged and at-risk youth through his charitable projects. Not only does Brooks provide financial and emotional support, he holds programs to help educate children to become productive members of society. His Derrick Brooks Charities has dozens of programs, and the best part is Brooks is not just a figurehead but actively involved in each of them, even taking children on trips overseas.

 

Jim Courier

The Pasco-raised tennis star once said, "It is very dangerous to have your self-worth riding on your results as an athlete." His impact reaches far beyond anything he ever did as one of the world's top players. He is co-founder of Courier's Kids, a nonprofit organization that supports after-school tennis and education programs. In addition, Courier is the leading force behind the Mercedes-Benz Classic, a star-studded exhibition at the St. Pete Times Forum. Proceeds from the event go to the First Serve Program, a national United States Tennis Association initiative that was launched in Florida and has a program in St. Petersburg. It introduces inner-city youth to tennis and has four components: tennis instruction, computer classes, academics and mentoring. And it's free to participants. Because of people such as Courier, the heavy hitters such as Pete Sampras, Anna Kournakova and Chris Evert participate in the event.

 

Brad Richards

Since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Lightning center has purchased a luxury suite at the St. Pete Times Forum to be used exclusively for pediatric oncology patients and their families. Not only do the kids and their families get first-class seats to a game, but the suite also has arts, crafts, video games, DVD players and other games. Plus, Richy's Rascals, as they are called, also get Lightning jerseys, hats and other memorabilia. Best of all, Richards meets and greets each of them after the game. Even after the toughest Lightning losses, a smiling Richards spends meaningful time with the kids well after the other players have left the building. Richards also is on the board of directors for the Children's Cancer Center and he's an honorary member of the board of directors for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, which named him winner of the Ted Williams Award for his contributions to pediatric cancer causes.

George Steinbrenner

The Yankees owner and Tampa resident has long had the reputation of being one of the most competitive people in sports, opening his checkbook to make sure his team had nothing but the best talent money could buy in the majors. In addition, his nickname, "The Boss, " came from his trait of firing people on a whim. But the "other" Boss is known for incredible generosity from all the major causes to even supplying disadvantaged Little Leagues with uniforms and equipment. Here's all you need to know about George's soft side: He regularly donates money to a Boston Red Sox charity that raises money for kids with cancer.

 

Toby Hall

Another former Tampa Bay athlete who continues to make an impact locally. Sure, the former Devil Rays catcher (now with the White Sox) didn't leave the Rays on the best of terms, but he started the Toby Hall Foundation in 2005. Hall and his wife, Karra, assist the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Ronald McDonald House and Safe Start. His efforts have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local kids.

 

Tony Dungy

Maybe the best of good guys in all of sports. From Big Brothers/Big Sisters to the Boys and Girls Club to the Prison Crusade Ministry to foster parent organizations to work with sick children. And that's just a small slice. The former Bucs coach works just as hard in the offseason as he does during the season, devoting time and energy to causes all across the country. And much of it is done out of the media spotlight. He doesn't do it for attention or respect but simply because that's the type of person he really is.

 

The rest

Many others do local charity work. Many local athletes simply are just "good guys, " friendly to everyone from the regular fan to the media to the security guards to the janitors who sweep the floors. For that we salute people such as Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford of the Devil Rays, Chris Simms and Michael Clayton of the Bucs, Tim Taylor and Vinny Lecavalier of the Lightning. Then there are owners Stuart Sternberg of the Rays and Bill Davidson of the Lightning. There are the local minor-league teams such as the Dunedin Blue Jays, Tampa Yankees and Clearwater Threshers.

Not everyone in sports is a jerk. This list proves it.