Peyton Manning is Sports Illustrated's 2013 "Sportsman of the Year." That honor was bestowed upon him as much for his strength of character as for his athletic prowess as the Denver Broncos' record-setting quarterback. Let's hope 2014 finds more politicians and celebrities following the Manning model.
Peyton Manning was raised in a privileged atmosphere as the gifted son of a superstar quarterback. By all accounts, his family recognized the value of humility and respect and passed on those standards to their three sons. While Peyton is a multimillionaire, he fully respects those less fortunate, also recognizing the value of support staff and personnel — and they revere him for his genuine friendship, conduct befitting of someone possessed of humility and a caring heart. He pens handwritten notes to thank others for kindnesses and to acknowledge their accomplishments or particular struggles.
When Manning has a subpar athletic day, he refuses to blame others or throw tantrums that would draw attention to himself. He saunters off the field after making spectacular plays and congratulates others, eschewing the currently popular victory dance or antics that draw attention. In short, he's a gentleman.
Manning sets the gold standard for how to behave in a world of self-importance and the attention-getting realm of professional sports. Others in politics who enjoy celebrity should take note. When faced with accomplishment or scandal, newsmakers often take a victory lap, noting their importance or that others are to blame for their misdeeds. Congressman Trey Radel of Florida was recently arrested for buying cocaine in Washington, D.C. Rather than resigning and disappearing, he feels justified in clinging to office — and his self-importance. Congressman Mark Sanford thought so highly of himself that he won reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives after disgracing himself as South Carolina's governor in the wake of a domestic breakdown.
Ever notice how celebrities who get caught breaking the law or saying something stupid and offensive apologize half-heartedly to "Any who were offended" by their ill-advised remarks? Peyton Manning is reportedly one who faces his mistakes, admitting falling short, but promising to atone. It's easy to believe him and disbelieve the others.
A recent ESPN documentary, The Book of Manning, mostly explained why. The Mannings have had a good life, full of success and wealth, yet it seems that their heads are not turned by their well-earned money and fame. Any professional athlete with as much money in the bank or as many records in the books as Peyton and Eli Manning — or their famous dad, Archie — might find it easy to have a swelled head and be elitist. But the Manning family has a remarkable knack for steadiness and equanimity in the face of emotional situations that might make ordinary mortals behave differently.
About the time the Manning documentary ran, a companion documentary highlighting the life of Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was also on the airwaves. It told the story of an equally gifted and famous professional athlete, and by all accounts, a good guy. McNair had plenty of fame and fortune, and a family of young sons, but an absent dad. His mother was prominent in the documentary, but not his father. Tragically, McNair made some mistakes and became involved with a mentally deranged woman, who shot him to death before killing herself. McNair was survived by his wife and sons, who will go through their lives without the husband and father they idolized.
We're all influenced by the kind of upbringing we have and the values that are instilled in us early. Those without enough positive early influences may not have the tools to cope when challenges touch their lives. What we see is not always what we get with celebrities, newsmakers and politicians. That leads most Americans to conclude there are few heroes in modern times.
And that also leads most Americans to especially appreciate a Peyton Manning when he comes along. I'm convinced the time has not passed when Americans can look up to and respect their leaders and people of prominence. Yet it's up to leaders and newsmakers to genuinely act with the goodness, humility and statesmanship that we expect of them.
Perhaps we can all use Peyton Manning as an example and an inspiration in 2014. ♦