Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Professional athletes, when you meet them in person, tend to be a bit disappointing.
We always have high expectations for those we admire, idolize and respect; we expect them to be humble, friendly, intelligent and polite; and let’s be honest, a lot of times, well, they just aren’t.
Sometimes they’re rude, or they won’t give a child an autograph; sometimes they have an attitude, and sometimes they are just plain jerks.
After speaking with Sgt. Maj. Mia Kelly, of 1st Information Operations Command of Fort Belvoir, Va., after her round of golf with none other than Tiger Woods last week, I know that at least one athlete does live up to, may even exceed, the expectations of fans.
After spending a day with the 12-time Major winner, Kelly said she is a convert.
“You can’t spend time with him and not become a fan, especially for those of us in the military,” she said.
Growing up in a military household with a father who was a retired Special Forces lieutenant colonel, Woods was raised on military golf courses and says he holds an affinity to those who serve our country.
“My dad was retired, but I grew up on a military base, and played golf there and that was my home course,” Woods told the thousands of spectators July 4 at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. “For me, all my life, I’ve been part of the military. I’ve always been around (servicemembers); I understand the commitment it takes for men and women to do what they do each and every day. That’s a commitment that I don’t think people truly understand.
“Especially with what’s going on overseas, we need to say ‘Thank you,’ somehow, and this is a small way of doing that.”
Professional athletes are often great donators to causes they support. But, giving your money away is one thing, and giving your time is another.
Woods, after playing in the Pro-Am Wednesday and the tournament Thursday through Sunday, spent the day with injured Soldiers at Walter Reed.
“I think he’s one of the most important sports figures out there because he actually cares about the military, and he’s genuine about it,” Kelly said. “I think it’s awesome.”
I know that I’ve met many professional athletes, and, more often than not, I have been disappointed. Their larger-than-life personas, which draw us to them, are often backed up by larger-than-life egos, which push us away.
In the midst of all of that, we have Tiger Woods, probably the most recognizable athlete in the world, spending time in his busy schedule, just weeks after the birth of his first child, golfing with military servicemembers, spending time with them and befriending them.
Woods didn’t do it for show, or for kudos; he did it because of his father, and because he was raised in the military like so many of those on Belvoir. He, unlike so many others, understands the military lifestyle, the hardships and the sacrifice, and it’s nice to know that someone so much in the public eye, with so much on his plate, can take the time to say two simple words.
Thank you.

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