Ever since I became a sports fan, I have found myself gravitating towards certain athletes. When I was young, it was Barry Sanders and Joe Dumars – two stalwarts of my beloved Detroit teams. In my teen years, I fell in love with baseball, and my walls became adorned with posters of Ken Griffey Jr.’s perfect swing and Cal Ripken’s boyish grin. Over the past decade, I have found myself applauding Tim Duncan’s quiet resolve and recently declared Russell Wilson to be my favorite player of the modern era, a claim I have backed up with the purchase of multiple “#3” jerseys and even a still-in-the-box action figure.
Why these players? In a word, character. Each of these athletes, whether on the field or off, display a penchant for playing the game “the right way” – whether it be Sanders’ handing the ball to the referee after every touchdown, Giffey’s (apparent) refusal to give into the long-ball steroid temptation of the late 90’s, or Russell’s visitations to local children’s hospitals during the season. I admire athletes who understand their role as ambassadors of the game, and find a way to conduct themselves in such a way that they can truly be seen as heroes to all who watch their accomplishments on the field each week.
Recently, I have added one more athlete to this list. A player who not only possesses great character, but who has made the effort to improve the lives of those around him, and give back to both the sporting community and the communities in which he has lived over the years. A player who has not only learned a great deal about himself over the years, but is willing to share these experiences with all who are willing to listen.
That player is Albert Haynesworth.
Let me explain.
For many, the story of Albert Haynesworth reads like the titles of never-used Seinfeld episodes: The Stomp. The $100 Milllion. The Coaching Issue. The Conditioning Problem. The Early Retirement. These are the headlines that have followed Haynesworth since his time with the Tennessee Titans, and often, used as the punchline when reminiscing on his career. But to reduce Haynesworth to such incidents is to overlook the many accomplishments he racked up on the football field. To name a few:
*USA Today High School All-American
*2nd Team All-SEC
*2x NFL Pro Bowl Selection
*2x NFL First Team All-Pro
*Sporting News Defensive Player of the Year
*NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year
He was a terrorizing force in the NFL, once named “the most dominant defensive tackle in the league” by the Sporting News, and, for justifiable reasons, one of the most sought after defensive free agents in the history of the game. But suddenly, when thrust into a different scheme and scrutiny in Washington (who ponied up the infamous $100 million contract that would become as much a burden as a boon to Haynesworth), the game shifted and the league’s most feared defensive lineman was reduced to becoming a part of a scheme that would prove to be both his and his coaching staff’s ultimate downfall. From that point on, Haynesworth began to drift from the consciousness of NFL fans and teams, eventually trying to resurface with both the Patriots and Buccaneers before finally hanging up his cleats in 2012, at the age of 31.