Well-known athletes are not always classy. The threshold of success in professional sports is attained only with a fierce competitive edge, which often brings with it a regrettable failure to communicate, appreciate or respect. For some, depsite success on the field or court, this equates to an excessive tendency to trash-talk — see our Top 5 Most Active Trash Talkers In Sports list — leading to a reputation as an antagonist for fans and players alike.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are a number of successful athletes who have shown that, win or lose, competitive success is not more important to them than their character. Some athletes have decided that a competitive edge does not necessarily have to come exclusively with discourtesy, incivility or ego — but rather, it can be enhanced with generosity, amiability and class.
We take a look at five of the classiest athletes in sports today:
5.) Brian Waters, NFL Free Agent
While the presence of trash-talking is present in virtually every professional sport in some aspect, few sports feature as large a quantity of it — with the exception of professional hockey — as American football. Additionally, few positions in the game are as associated with straight-up vulgarity as that of lineman. One of those athletes who are able to take part in trash talk, while retaining a class and aura of dignity, is six-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters. Throughout his career in Dallas, Kansas City and New England, Waters has set the bar for involvement in charity. In addition to taking on the role of leader wherever he plays, the 15-year-veteran has awarded more than 80 college scholarships to low-income students, and has directly benefited thousands of families through providing school supplies for under-privileged students. A slight percentage of his many charities also include YMCA, Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity and countless food drives. In 2009, Waters was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, which recognizes NFL players for their volunteer and charity work.
4.) Tim Tebow, NFL Free Agent
Few players have shouldered as much criticism, denunciation and slander as Tim Tebow. At the same time, few players have displayed as much class and gratitude throughout such a process. His ardent and outgoing faith are no secret to the sports community, and his in-game kneeling to pray even sparked the global “Tebowing” craze. However, more importantly, Tebow has long led communal prayer meetings on the field, which include players from the opposing team. When he took over the starting quarterback position of the Denver Broncos from Kyle Orton, it was Tebow who was breaking up fights on the field between Broncos and Raiders. Additionally, whereas most athletes find financial success before giving back to the community, Tebow had aspirations of charity when he was still in college, starting the “First and 15” foundation with other students from the University of Florida, which raised funds for an orphanage in the Philippines, where Tebow was born. In 2011, the Tebow Foundation teamed with CURE to announce a hospital on the island of Mindanao, which will focus on orthopedics. Currently a broadcaster for ESPN, Tebow continues to look for roles in shoulder pads again, and emulate the magic he sparked in Denver in 2011. Through the process, however, you will find gratitude and modesty where so often there is anger and finger-pointing.
3.) Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers
In terms of character, Steve Nash is a lot like wine, in that he seems to be enhanced with age, even as his athleticism begins to depreciate. The Canadian native started the Steve Nash Foundation in 2001, which focuses on foster health in children, and plays a major role in children who suffer due to poverty and abuse by providing opportunities in education. Back in British Columbia, Nash sponsors a youth basketball league, which has grown to exceed 10,000 members. His charity is felt across oceans, as well. In 2007, a joint charity with Yao Ming reportedly raised some $2.5 million for Chinese children in need. Named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2006, Nash received Canada’s highest honor, the Order of Canada in 2007, in part due to his philanthropic interests. He even held a charity soccer match featuring NBA players. Upon leaving the Phoenix Suns for Los Angeles in 2012, Nash was quoted, “The Phoenix Suns are an amazing organization, and fans should be excited about their future. I hope the Suns win a championship some day soon for all the amazing fans and wonderful people in the organization.” How many athletes depart a team — one that will be considered a professional rival — and hope that they win a championship?
2.) Roger Federer, Professional Tennis
For many athletes, flamboyant celebrations and noisy interviews have unfortunately become a regular part of the game (again, refer to Richard Sherman on our Top 5 Most Active Trash Talkers In Sports list). This is not the case of one of the greatest and most victorious professional tennis players in the world. Roger Federer, in his many accomplishments, has always accepted well-deserved and fought-for trophies and awards with a classy sense of modesty. In the occasion that he does lose, Federer celebrates his victor with admiring words, and wishes of luck, rather than spending microphone time making excuses and attempting to exonerate himself. Additionally, the man speaks seven different languages, enhancing his overall character with a social charm to match his athletic elegance.
1.) R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays
Without a doubt, there are few celebrities, let alone athletes, who show as much class as that of knuckleball pitcher, R.A. Dickey. In addition to a constant show of respect for teammates, fans and opponents alike, Dickey is an avid reader. It is not unheard of that a stack of books, including titles from C.S. Lewis, are found in his locker, and he has said that, had baseball not worked out, he would have liked to pursue becoming a professor of English. In 2011, prior to his Cy Young season (which he won after 11 years in the Majors), Dickey announced he would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with the intention of raising awareness of human trafficking in India. It was then reported in 2012 that he was helping a teenaged ball player perfect his knuckleball so he could play in college. All this, despite a dreadfully troubled childhood. In a 2012 autobiography, Dickey discusses his struggles suffering sexual abuse as a child, and battling thoughts of suicide as an adult. For some, the experience of tragedy corrupts. For R. A. Dickey, it reinforced him into one of the most respected athletes in sports.