In America’s Culture of Celebrity, there are basically two personality types.
One is rooted in the attitude: “It’s all about me!” Examples are endless: Entertainers with names like GaGa and BooBoo; TV interviewers whose “questions” begin with arrogant phrases like “You have to admit . . .”; weathermen who double over in laughter at their own lame jokes; celebrity talk show hosts who express amazement over revelations of the obvious, such as Lance Armstrong’s confession that he was a doper; and of course, the Kardashians, whose claim to their overly long place in the spotlight is best described as “being famous for being famous.”
They are not team players; they upstage their colleagues, their guests, and their audience, making it clear that, at least in their own minds, “It’s all about me!” Fortunately, they are the exception. But they are obnoxious exceptions.
In sports, perhaps more than in other celebrity venues, teamwork — not showboating — is prized.
Most professional athletes are team players.
For every successful pitcher, there are infielders and outfielders whose throws can beat a batter to first base.
For every successful quarterback, there is an offensive line giving him time to throw or hand off the ball.
Pitchers and quarterbacks are seldom showboaters; they appear to understand who makes them look good.
But there are exceptions. Many of the guys who catch the passes and score the points in the National Football League appear to have missed the class where they taught humility and gratitude. They are the “It’s all about me!” guys on the gridiron.
After every scoring pass, they beat their chests as if they had just single-handedly defeated all of our enemies in the Middle East, or found a cure for cancer.
And they point the obligatory raised finger toward the sky, to make it clear that the Almighty personally ordained that they would catch that perfectly thrown pass and strut effortlessly into the end zone. It is enough to make one wonder what God has against middle linebackers and free safeties.
But in this cult of gridiron celebrities, there are players who give it their all, year in and year out, without chest-beating or finger-pointing.
Such a player is Bartow’s Ken Riley, who played 15 years for the Cincinnati Bengals, not chasing the highest bucks from coast to coast, but giving his best efforts to his team and its fans.
As a cornerback from 1969 to 1983, he intercepted 65 passes for returns of 596 yards and five touchdowns. Few defensive players have more than 50 interceptions to their credit. He led the league three times in interceptions.
Little known in football circles, Riley was a Rhodes scholar.
On retirement, he became athletic director at Florida A&M University, where he was a four-year quarterback in his college years, and later took a low profile but essential job as an educator in the Polk County school system.
In his hometown of Bartow, where he played on the Union Academy High School football team in the days of segregated schools, he established the Eastside Positive Action Committee, working for enhancement and development of the community in which he was raised.
Ken Riley is being considered for induction into professional football’s Hall of Fame.
He is richly deserving of the honor, not only for his performance on the gridiron, but for the dignity he displayed as a player and the leadership he has displayed since his retirement.
We hope the NFL will recognize his contribution to the sport and its reputation.