Football heroes should exhibit model behavior

Hunter Ford’s latest column from The Western Star via email. Enjoy.

If you want to be a football hero you need to be aware that there’s more to it than punt, pass and kick. It doesn’t matter if you are playing at the middle school, high school, college or pro level. When you put on the uniform you better expect to take a few licks. On the field, there will always be someone waiting around the corner, ready to blindside you with a powerful tackle or a devastating block.

And if you don’t conduct yourself well off the field, there will always be someone waiting to blindside you in another way.

Sure, we have all heard the stories of football players getting preferential treatment. But I’m not so sure the tide isn’t turning on that scenario. A few prominent football players have recently been caught in the undertow of their poor off-the-field decisions.

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Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback that recently plead guilty to charges of illegal dog fighting is one of them.

Several football players from the University of Alabama have been arrested on various charges in the past few weeks. The most prominent among the Alabama players is Simeon Castille, a star defensive back and the son of one of the Tide’s most respected former players.

Without passing judgment on Castille, he has plead not guilty and could be acquitted, I would say he made a pretty big mistake. I hope the criminal charges against him don’t old up. But surely he learned a valuable lesson. And if he could get into trouble, then it could happen to anyone.

If you are a well-known football star and you are out at 2 a.m. cutting up, hollering and “horse playing” you are going to draw someone’s attention.

Once, again, it doesn’t matter what level of football you play. If you are on the team at your local middle school, you are going to be looked up to by fellow students. Football, especially in the South, is a sport that stirs a lot of passion and pride. When you play for Hueytown Middle School, Jess Lanier High, UAB or the Atlanta Falcons you don’t just represent yourself, you represent everybody that has an association with that school or franchise.

Hopefully younger players will learn some lessons from what has happened to Vicks, Castille and others. Just being a football player doesn’t give you a “get out of jail free card.”

I believe that society as a whole is becoming fed up with pampered athletes “acting a fool” and thinking they can get away with anything.

Used to be, on-the-field behavior was held to a stricter standard.

In the 1960s and 70s if a player scored a touchdown, most good football coaches would tell them to “act like you’ve been there before.” The favorite play for these coaches was when one of their players handed the ball to the referee in the end zone after a touchdown. Spiking the ball, spinning it like a top or dialing numbers on an imaginary cell phone would have gotten a player in some serious trouble.

So, no matter what age you are, if you are playing football this year, play with pride, with effort and class. And act like you’ve been there before. On and off the field.