By Mike Tursi (@Mike_Tursi):
Charles Barkley, on more than one occasion, has emphatically stated that athletes are not role models. I can still hear my Father’s own words to me about it being okay to admire what athletes do on the field, but not to try to emulate their lives away from the games that they play because, after all, they are only human and no different than the rest of us.
Victor Cruz burst onto the NFL scene last season captivating everyone with his dynamic receiving skills and slick salsa dancing. Giants fans everywhere embraced Cruz as he played a key role in leading the Giants to a Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. Among those enamored with Cruz’ play was 6 year old Jack Pinto. Jack loved the Giants, and it should be known that Victor Cruz was his hero. On December 14, Jack fell victim to a senseless and heinous act of violence that claimed his life, as well as the lives of 25 other people. On Monday he was laid to rest wearing the jersey of his favorite team and favorite player.
To honor Jack, Victor Cruz wrote the young boy’s name on his cleats during last Sunday’s game in Atlanta. But that is not what makes Victor Cruz a role model. What makes him a role model is what he did this past Tuesday.
In the wake of this terrible tragedy, Victor Cruz, along with his girlfriend and young daughter, made the trip to Newtown, Connecticut to visit the Pinto family. It wasn’t an act of charity, nor was it a publicity stunt. It was all that one man could think to do to help bring some form of comfort to a grieving family.
“It was a time where I just wanted to be a positive voice, a positive light in a time where it can be very negative,” said Cruz.
Not only does this make him a role model as a football player, but also it makes him a role model as a person; someone who can be looked up to because they do the right thing – even if it is difficult to do so.
This isn’t something that Cruz had to do. There were plenty of other ways to show his support. The fact that he chose to do this for a grieving family and community speaks volumes about his character.
Fellow NFL star and Rutgers legend Ray Rice said, “You do it from the heart, from within and what he did was amazing.”
It was amazing and at least for a short time, gave some solace to the Pinto’s and the people of Newtown.
All of the 99-yard touchdown receptions, all of the salsa dances, and all of the receiving records, they will all pail in comparison to this one act of heroism. I have two children around the same age as Jack Pinto. My son is becoming quite a sports fan. And he is starting to idolize players. I give him the same speech my father used to give to me. But I don’t have a problem with him idolizing Victor Cruz on or off the field.
In fact, #80 is a role model for all of us, myself included. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said that he was incredibly proud of Cruz. But really, we’re all proud of him and we’re all proud to be a Giants fan when actions like this happen. But in the end, Giants fans are even more proud to be a fan of Victor Cruz. He is a true role model.
Photo Credit: Tami Chappell/Reuters