The Importance of Being Good

There is a difference between a good athlete and a good person. You can idolize an athlete for their athletic achievements, the trophies and medals they’ve won, the game-winning moments you cherish, but in their personal life, like so many people, an athlete can also be a criminal, an addict, prone to violence, even just a mean person. And because we love sports, and the beautiful moments that brighten our lives, we often allow it.

Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz are living proof that there is a ripple effect that stems from athletes being good people. Imagining the Red Sox without Papi is like having to picture a 4th of July without fireworks. Pedro befriended David, and is the reason the Red Sox signed him. On and off the field, he was a mentor to David, teaching him how to hit better against Yankee pitchers and inviting him into the Martinez family. To this day, they both openly acknowledge their gratitude for one another and give each other credit for the accomplishments, both shared and individual.

David Ortiz grew up with good parents, as so many of us do. Reading his book, it’s clear that they were determined to give him a better life and teach him right from wrong, a strong work ethic, the importance of making something for yourself. But many people change when they become rich and famous. Though I don’t know him personally, I like to think that David Ortiz did not. Through his philanthropic efforts and dedication to the city of Boston and the Dominican Republic, it’s clear that he wanted to be more than just a baseball player. He became our champion, a beacon of hope and victory in a time when we needed someone and something to believe in. He became a hero when Boston needed one more than ever, and he worked hard to prove himself to us time again. We owe a large part of that to Pedro.

There is a ripple effect that started with Pedro and continues today, months after David Ortiz stepped onto the field for the last game of his career. Pedro mentored David, and David took it upon himself to do the same, guiding players like Hanley and Mookie, who came into the clubhouse even younger than David had. Young players are impressionable, and an older athlete who’s lived the game can be an invaluable part of a young player’s career. Papi recognized the impact of having Pedro in his life, and rather than simply appreciating it, he decided to follow in his footsteps. We see the outcome every time the outfield boys do their win, dance, repeat. We see it in their smiles and genuine affection for each other, the true joy they seem to have as members of Red Sox Nation. This wasn’t always the case; Red Sox players used to be known for their lack of camaraderie. Today, we have a team of friends, even brothers, another ripple. Hopefully, David’s students will see how important it all is, and continue the tradition.

When you have good athletes who are also (and more importantly) good people, they inspire the world to be better. Kids grow up seeing players who not only hit heroic grand slams, but also spend time visiting children’s hospitals and raising money for important causes. It isn’t shameful, and you don’t have to make excuses, like “Ray Rice beats his fiancé but did you see that play he made in last week’s game?” There’s a different kind of pride when you know that you’re rooting for people who not only play well, but live well. And it sets a precedent that what you do and who you are matters, whether you’re an athlete or not, we should all lead by example.

By honoring David Ortiz tomorrow night, we honor a special sort of player. The kind who is devoted to his city on and off the field. The kind who uses his prestige to inspire and help those who need it most. When we honor Papi, we also honor Pedro, and we honor all the men and women who are good, both at their game and as human beings.