Nine times out of ten, young athletes will choose to model themselves after the best players in the game. And unfortunately, even the best and most influential players can find themselves in the negative spotlight for abusing the platform that is inherent with being a professional athlete. Talent will not prevent bad decisions (i.e, DUI’s, insensitive and ignorant remarks, or drug possession), and today everyone can see your bad decisions in an instant thanks to internet and TV.
Fortunately, there are still many great role models for young athletes and kids to look up to in Major League Baseball – ones that use their platform to lead others in the right direction. Here is the first half of my list of the top 10 current MLB players as role models.
# 1 – CJ Wilson – LHP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
As a Major League Baseball starting pitcher, what do you think CJ Wilson did right after signing his new contract worth over $77 million? Party! NO. You see, Wilson describes himself as “Straight Edge”, which by definition means, “a lifetime commitment never to drink, smoke, or do drugs”, and also includes abstaining from promiscuous sexual relations. In fact, he has permanently branded himself with a tattoo reading Straight Edge.
Not once in CJ’s 32 years on Earth has he had a drop of alcohol or a single drug. In a time when 72% of kids have had (more than a few sips of) alcohol and 44% have tried cigarettes before they graduate high school, it is imperative that athletes today help lead the anti-drug/tobacco fight and awareness of alcohol use. CJ Wilson is the ultimate example of incredible success without succumbing to social peer pressure.
# 2 – Clayton Kershaw – LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
In 2012, Clayton Kershaw was awarded the Roberto Clemente award which goes to the player that best “best represents the game through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement”, and is named after a man who died while giving back.
Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, together have made incredible contributions to at-risk children and communities that need assistant through the charitable organization they founded, Kershaw’s Challenge. On top of Kershaw’s Challenge, which also helps create emergency funds for the children who suffer from life-altering diseases, Clayton and Ellen travel to Africa every year to visit one of the orphanages that their organization helps fund. They also co-wrote a book together: “Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself”, a book detailing their trips to Africa and what they have learned about making a difference in the world by using their God-given dreams.
Kershaw is an example of going above and beyond for others; not only donating money, but also precious and impactful time.
#3 – Jon Lester – LHP, Boston Red Sox
Jon Lester’s career in baseball progressed much like the many talented MLB prospects before him: high school standout, 2nd round draft pick, minor leaguer, and finally a Major League call-up. With a 2.38 ERA through 5 career MLB starts, things looked great for Lester. Until, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Lester’s dreams of MLB success went on hold, of course. Six rounds of chemo and finally the cancer was in remission. But, could Jon come back and play baseball at a high level again? Could he muster up the will to go through the entire minor league process again? Not only was he up to the task, he exceeded expectations. He came back to bolster the Red Sox rotation, throw a no hitter (quite the inspiring moment) and win a Cy Young award. Lester should not only serve as a role model and inspiration to those with cancer, but to all athletes.
#4 – Curtis Granderson – OF, New York Yankees
Granderson, a star in one of the greatest markets in American (New York), has one of the grandest opportunities for influence in the league, and he certainly uses it to help others. Curtis founded the Grand Kids Foundation in 2007 to help promote good education for the youth of America, as well as to promote baseball as an outlet for inner-city kids. The foundation has awarded over $80,000 to various schools since its founding. The foundation has no operating costs, so every dollar donated goes directly to the children.
Curtis also wrote a children’s book, “All You Can Be: Dream It, Draw It, Become It!”. Granderson recognizes that the greatest impact audience that an athlete can influence is children and is doing his part to impact them for the better.
#5 – Matt Kemp – OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp is already an idol to so many aspiring professional ballplayers and kids everywhere. As a young player with a body of an NBA player, speed of a track star, elite power, and a lifestyle filled with LA sun and pretty women, it has got to be hard to keep yourself in line, let alone help others. But, Matt Kemp finds a way to keep himself clean, and recently made a few very meaningful gestures.
Earlier this season Matt learned of a terminally-ill young man in the stands during a Dodger game. Following the game, Matt Kemp proceeded to walk over to teen and handed over a ton of his gear.
Also, after the devastating tornado is Moore, Oklahoma just a few weeks ago, Kemp pledged to donate $1,000 to the relief effort for every home run he hit until the All-Star Break. Sadly, Kemp received grief from many for “not giving enough”. Matt took this too heart apparently, and promptly pledged to donate another $250,000 on top of the previous pledge, saying:
Dear Families of OKC,
On Monday, out of concern and emotion I committed $1,000.00 for every home run I hit until the All-Star Break. It was a quick and small gesture in advance of what I knew would be my greater contribution through your rebuilding process. I am keeping my pledge and in addition, donating $250,000.00. May God bless you through this and the many generous donations coming to your aid.” -Matt Kemp #PrayforOklahoma
Matt Kemp’s staggering talent, personality, and desire to impact those who need more than anything a reason to smile all combines to make him a great role model for young ballplayers.
Read Part II here.