An NFL column with no punching or beating
As far as the public’s interest goes, I know this can’t compete with a man knocking out his fiancé on video or an athlete beating his child with a switch, but I’m going to write about this anyway.
The Oakland Raiders signed wide receiver James Jones to a three-year deal from the Green Bay Packers this season. Jones was a workhouse for Green Bay for seven years, helping the Packers win Super Bowl XLV in 2011. So the Raiders are hoping he can bring veteran leadership to a young receiver corps. (Forget his two fumbles in one play last Sunday.) But that’s not what makes Jones interesting.
James Jones was homeless from age 8 to 14 in San Jose, California with his mother and older sister. Though his mother was on drugs, she made sure the kids had something to eat every day and clothes on their backs. They stayed at a seeming endless series of homeless shelters. The shelters had a 90-day limit and after 90 days, Jones’ mother tried to get money for a motel room or they would sleep in parks on benches. At the shelters, Jones had to shower with grown men and was afraid of assault. Still, being in the shelters was better than the streets.
James went to live with his grandmother at 14 and attended Gunderson High School where he excelled in football, track and basketball. After earning a full ride football scholarship to San Jose State University he continued his excellence on the field earning MVP in the New Mexico Bowl.
But what truly makes Jones a class act is the fact that when he was in Green Bay he regularly spoke to the Boys and Girls Club and high schools sharing his story and encouraging kids to reach for their dreams. He refurbished a high school football field and women’s shelters. As soon as he entered the NFL in 2007, he started the Love Jones 4 Kids foundation in Green Bay, Wisconsin and San Jose, California. He contributes to homeless shelters, shares his story with kids and provides football camps and other activities for disadvantaged youth. It’s important to him that all of his events are free of charge.
Since his player number is 89, he’s implemented something he calls 89 Wishes. Homeless and at risk youth write to his foundation expressing their wishes and he grants 89 of them every year. His wife Tamika who runs the foundation makes it clear that Jones believes in giving a hand up, not a hand out. He wants kids, especially kids living in circumstances similar to his own, to understand that their situation is temporary. They can make it. Football has allowed him to follow his true passion: helping others. As he told an interviewer recently, “If you’re in the NFL… and you’re not giving back then you’re wasting your time.”
Jones’ story is inspirational but it’s not that unique. Though you wouldn’t know it by the headlines, many NFL players have their own foundations and spend their spare time speaking to kids, playing charity games, donating to local causes and giving back to the community.
It’s important for me to relay James’ story, not just because I’m an Oakland Raider fan but also because Jones is far more representative of NFL players than the ones who make the headlines for arrests.
The New York Times recently ran an article referencing the USA Today’s statistics on NFL player arrests. USA Today has compiled the arrest information since 2000. With 53 players each on 32 teams, the stats show that since 2000, 2.53 percent of NFL players have been arrested. That’s lower than the national average for men in that age group! It also shows that 2014 is on pace to be the lowest year on record. Also, remember that the stats count arrests even if the charges were dropped or a player was acquitted.
This doesn’t mean that cases like Ray Rice’s and Adrian Peterson shouldn’t be covered. They should. And the coverage of the NFL’s policy or lack thereof is certainly important. Of course, any domestic violence case or arrests for abusing children is one too many. That should go without saying but, unfortunately, in today’s climate I have to say it.
But it’s also important to point out that the bad apples are the exceptions. There are plenty of football players who do their job on the field and give back to their communities when they’re off of it.
I’ve always thought the greatest power the media has is the ability to decide what’s news and what isn’t. When there’s a story like the Ray Rice case in the national news the media seeks out additional stories on domestic violence or arrests in the NFL. This is how news works. But this compounding effect with cable news, local news, radio and the Internet all searching for additional cases have the effect, unintentionally or intentionally, of magnifying a problem so it seems like it’s rampant.
All priests aren’t raping children. All police aren’t shooting unarmed black men. Ebola isn’t sweeping the country. ISIS isn’t the greatest threat in world history. And all NFL players aren’t going home and knocking out their spouses.
There are a lot of good guys out there who deserve more headlines than they get.