30 is merely the beginning of this story
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
By JOHN P. LOPEZ
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
In a league where "making it rain" can be a thug-life mantra, one small gesture won't lift so many clouds of suspicion and doubt.
The NFL has an image problem like it never has seen before.
But two new Texans teammates certainly have brought a ray of light to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's dark days. And from there, even if eternal hope won't sprout, at least a house for an underprivileged family most certainly will.
Texans running back Ahman Green and safety Jason Simmons had no idea their conversation in the privacy of a locker room last week would begin such a dialogue among fans, analysts, teammates and league officials.
Green, who has worn jersey No. 30 virtually his entire football career, approached the veteran Simmons about making a deal to wear it. Simmons, who had worn the number since the Texans' inception in 2002, said sure.
A unique request
Simmons put just one condition on the deal. Instead of the traditional payola, which has caused some NFL teammates to haggle like rich brats — Redskins back Clinton Portis even was sued by teammate Ifeanyi Ohalete for not forking over $30,000 for No. 26 — Simmons wanted to help a needy family.
He asked Green to help him get an underprivileged local family, more than likely a single-parent family, into a new home.
"We didn't want all this fanfare," said Simmons, a 10-year NFL safety whose career until last week was distinguished by the indistinguishable. "We just wanted to help people in need."
Among thugs like Pacman Jones, Simmons has been more just part of the herd throughout his career. As for Green, who has been humbled and, he believes, miscast after being involved in a domestic disturbance two years ago in Milwaukee, he wanted to entwine himself in his new community.
"The way my mom and dad raised me, if I helped somebody out, everybody doesn't have to know," Green said. "I want my teammates to know who I am, of course, not only in the locker room but as part of the community. It's just by happenstance that it's gotten so big."
Hope springs forward
From one story on these pages, this unique tale of hope has blossomed.
Green and Simmons have been stopped by strangers thanking them for doing a good deed. The blogosphere has buzzed over the agreement between teammates.
Before, Simmons hardly was a known NFL commodity. By Tuesday evening, more than 4,000 blogs had referenced the story, according to search results in at least one online blog directory.
Cable sports news programs featured the pair. After practice Tuesday, cameras and reporters surrounded Simmons and Green, and a network evening news crew was on hand for a feature.
A sense of sincerity
For all the contrived ways NFL players have tried to excuse misdeeds and the league has attempted to clean up its deviant record (which includes nearly 40 players arrested since last January), sincerity matters.
Humility means something to fans. Modesty and honesty are the best player-personnel policies.
Just this week, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry was reported to have failed a court-ordered drug test. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been linked to a hideous dog fighting operation at a home he owns. New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress insulted female patrons at a New Jersey bar and skipped out on a $2,000 tab. And Portis, he of the unpaid promise for No. 26, said of Vick's possible dog-fighting involvement: "If that's what he wants to do, then do it."
And that was just one week of life in the NFL. Who knows what will be on the memos crossing Goodell's desk next week?
Maybe there will be cockfighting in Arizona and more drug busts in South Florida. Maybe it'll be another round of "making it rain" in Vegas, which is how Jones, the suspended Tennessee Titans thug, described his showering strippers with thousands of dollar bills over NBA All-Star Weekend.
"Right now, the league is under a lot of scrutiny," Simmons said. "I think people just wanted to see something positive. We weren't looking for all this fanfare. But with all these people watching now, hopefully other players can do it, too."
At worst, this was a reminder that not everyone in the NFL is a thug or criminal. The Texans knew what they had in Simmons, a player whom coach Gary Kubiak has long held up as an example for rookies and youngsters.
"I think it's special what (Simmons) did, but it's not a surprise with him, because that's what he stands for," Kubiak said. "You show me a guy who plays 10-12 years in this league, and I'll show you a guy with a lot of class, and that's what he has."
Kubiak also found out something about the leadership and character of his new featured back, who has in essence taken Simmons' idea and — what else — run with it.
A long-term benefit
Simmons and Green now are working with the Texans to develop a foundation so more families can benefit in the future.
The No. 30 Foundation?
"We want to do this thing right," Simmons said. "We don't want to half-step it, and we don't want it to be the last time we do it. It feels good to do something for someone who needs it."
Amid the darkest days of NFL conduct, a couple of Texans are making things feel just a little bit better. That's a start.
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