Professional athletes are not only experts at their sports, but are also entertainers. Because of that, whether they realize it or not, they have influence in the public sphere in American culture, as well as throughout the world.
Some athletes do not realize the scope of their influence and act immaturely away from the playing arena. However, some athletes are not only great athletes but also carry themselves well away from their sport. They not only excel above their peers and counterparts in the game, but they find positive ways to contribute to those less fortunate or to give back to their communities. These are the athletes who had and who have positively impacted the world we live in.
Table of Page Contents
- 10. Dwyane Wade – Chicago Bulls
- 9. Jennie Finch – USA Softball
- 8. Darrell and Michael Waltrip – NASCAR
- 7. Jimmy Butler – Chicago Bulls
- 6. Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs
- 5. Arnold Palmer – PGA Tour
- 4. Jim Furyk – PGA Tour
- 3. David Robinson – San Antonio Spurs
- 2. Pat Tillman – Arizona Cardinals
- 1. Roberto Clemente – Pittsburgh Pirates
Here are the ten best athlete role models of all-time.
10. Dwyane Wade – Chicago Bulls
Dwyane Wade has been known to promote fatherhood, with constant pictures of his kids, but has also championed causes such as decreasing the violent crime in his home city of Chicago. When ESPN did a special roundtable-type discussion on athletes and violent crime in the summer, Wade, who had just signed with his hometown Bulls, took a stand and said that the violence in the city of Chicago must stop.
Wade has done more than just said he wants to stop the violence in the city. His Wade’s World Foundation works specifically for the benefit of Chicago, with activities for the city’s youth, as well as programs to look out for city families.
And although the charity’s spending had come into question in summer 2016 by a group known as CharityWatch, the spending breakdown, as reported by The Chicago Tribune, is still a positive spending breakdown in looking out for others.
9. Jennie Finch – USA Softball
Finch’s dominance in the sport paved the way for future star pitchers, and her class off the field is impressive as well. When softball was removed from the Olympic Games, Finch was fighting to get it back.
She also has run a New York City Marathon, where in November 2011 she decided to start from the back of the pack, in order to promote youth fitness. Timex decided that every time she passed a runner, the organization would give a dollar to the New York Road Runners’ Youth Programs. She raised over $30,000.
8. Darrell and Michael Waltrip – NASCAR
Two of the best-known and highly successful names in NASCAR are also two very philanthropic individuals.
The Waltrips hold a Waltrip Brothers’ Charity Championship, in which they round up celebrities, up-and-comers and big-time entertainment to raise money for various charities. 2016 marked the seventh year for the brothers’ event. 2015 marked the fourth straight year that their event beat its own fundraising record.
At the end of the 2014 event, the event had raised nearly $1.5 million in charitable donations.
7. Jimmy Butler – Chicago Bulls
Butler epitomizes dedication to his craft, as he has improved his game to become a great scoring threat over the course of his six-year NBA career. Not known for his scoring early on in his NBA career, Butler has averaged at least 20 points per game each of the last two seasons and is averaging 24.5 thus far in 2016-17. He improved his scoring average 6.9 points per game from 2013-14 (13.1 ppg) to 2014-15 (20 ppg).
How he did it is more intriguing than the fact that he did it. In the summer of 2014, Butler and some friends rented a house where they did not have internet or cable, so they would go to the gym to get better when they were bored. It’s a sign of Butler’s relentless will to improve himself. Butler came from a poor upbringing in Texas and is now an NBA star.
Butler also made it in the NBA early on by dedicating himself to that less popular aspect of the game: Defense.
What makes Butler admirable away from the court? His willingness to help those in need. Butler took 23 boys from Chicago’s Mercy Home on a shopping trip before Christmas. Mercy Home, which has been around in Chicago since 1887, serves underprivileged boys and girls in the city. It started as a shelter for the city’s homeless boys.
Butler and friends have also been known to pay grocery bills for others.
6. Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs
The Big Fundamental. If there was ever a player to rise to the top of his game quieter than Tim Duncan did, I’d love to know who that was.
Duncan built himself a Hall-of-Fame NBA career by playing the game the right way: fundamentally sound and with humility. However, along with the five championships, consistent play, and loyalty to the Spurs organization, Duncan had a charitable attitude away from the court.
He started the Tim Duncan Foundation in 2001. He has also partnered with the Children of Jamaica Outreach. The Tim Duncan Foundation, in addition to holding the Bowling for Dollar$ Charity Bowl-A-Thon, held the Slam Duncan Charity Golf Classic. Duncan also has worked with the Children’s Bereavement Center, the Children’s Center of San Antonio, and the Cancer Therapy and Research Center. In 2015, he did a car raffle where he chanced off a 2013 Dodge Challenger with a look inspired by comic-book character The Punisher to help victims of child abuse. The $60,000 raised by the raffle went to Childsafe, a San Antonio charity that helps child-abuse victims.
Duncan won the NBA’s Community Assist Award in 2001, and he won the league’s Teammate of the Year Award in 2015.
5. Arnold Palmer – PGA Tour
Palmer, arguably the world’s best all-time golfer, excelled off the course as well as on it.
A fellow Payne Stewart Award recipient (2000), Palmer helped found the Arnold Palmer Medical Center in Orlando in the 1980’s. He still worked closely with the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in recent years.
Aside from care for children, his Arnie’s Army has outreach in helping promote health and wellness and care for community and environment, according to the organization’s website. Palmer had also held a Champions for Arnold’s Kids Pro-Am as part of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
4. Jim Furyk – PGA Tour
Jim Furyk has 17 PGA Tour first-place finishes and 183 top-10 finishes. Off the course, Furyk’s sportsmanlike and charitable persona has been recognized, as he won the 2016 Payne Stewart Award, which the PGA Tour awards based on the traits of charity, character, and sportsmanship.
Furyk and his wife also have the Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation. When he won the Payne Stewart Award, Furyk decided to give the $300,000 that would go to a charity of his choice to the foundation for it to be spread out among six charitable organizations: Blessings in a Backpack, Community PedsCare, the Malivai Washington Youth Foundation, the Monique Burr Foundation, Operation Shower, and the Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla.
Furyk had also been recognized with the ASAP Sports/Jim Murray Award in 2015. He won that award for dealing well with the media. Furyk, who also shot the lowest score ever in one round on the PGA Tour, helped present a check for $2 million on behalf of The Players Championship to Wolfson in November.
3. David Robinson – San Antonio Spurs
Another San Antonio big man who was focal point of the Spurs’ twin-towers look alongside Tim Duncan until Robinson retired, he put up Hall-of-Fame numbers and helped the Spurs to NBA titles in 1999 and 2003.
Robinson, one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players, had more character off the court than he did talent and heart on it. There’s a reason the NBA currently honors him by presenting the winner of the Kia Community Assist Award a plaque in honor of Robinson.
Robinson is a World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Famer. His other awards for philanthropy are many and impressive. In 1991, he promised 94 fifth graders at Gates Elementary in San Antonio that if they completed high school, he’d give them $2,000 in scholarship money for college. Seven years later, he gave 50 of those students the promised money at their high school graduation.
Robinson also helped to found IDEA Carver Academy, a school founded in 2012 with the hopes of sending all who attend the school to college.
Robinson also served two years in the Navy before embarking on his basketball career.
2. Pat Tillman – Arizona Cardinals
Tillman played four years for the Cardinals, seeming on his way to a great career with 247 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and three interceptions in those four years.
Then, Uncle Sam came calling. Tillman decided to join his brother Kevin Tillman in leaving pro sports to serve America in the Army. Kevin was a minor-league baseball player.
Pat Tillman wanted to become an elite Ranger and go to Afghanistan. He was killed in Afghanistan in what was a friendly fire situation in which he was mistakenly shot.
To give up the kind of money Tillman would’ve had had he stayed in the NFL to sacrifice himself financially and personally for his country is admirable and shows youngsters that sacrificial love is real love.
1. Roberto Clemente – Pittsburgh Pirates
For as great a baseball player as Clemente was, not only with his stats, but with his style of play, his off-the-field work is also memorable.
Clemente was on his way to perform even more charity work when his life ended. On December 31, 1972, Clemente was en route to Nicaragua to help with earthquake relief, but his plane crashed, killing him. It is reported that Tom Walker, one of Clemente’s teammates, wanted to go over with him, but Clemente told him no and instead to enjoy New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Clemente even did a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. Reserves in his lifetime.
It may be impossible to bat 1.000 for a career in baseball, but Clemente definitely did so in life. And that he died in the service of others makes him an ultimate role model.