Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Meaning of the Season

In a world where wide receivers prominently support disgraced QB's who torture dogs, and where baseball heroes use hormones and steroids to get ahead, it's always nice to hear about athletes using their celebrity to illustrate the meaning of the holiday season.

In an ecumenical sense, this season is about faith. It's about celebration. For Christians, it's recognition of one of the seminal events in human history - the birth of Christ, the son of God.

Whether you're Jewish, Christian or Muslim, mid-December harkens religious holidays that are designed to remind of us of a need for personal humility and kindness.

It's easy to forget that when confronted by roughly 12,234,342,890 jewelry commercials each day that aggressively point out that if you don't buy your wife/girlfriend a diamond necklace, you are a BAD MAN. It's easy to forget the meaning of the season when navigating through pushy mall crowds, wincing at credit card statements and preparing to feed 19 lbs. of turkey to an incoming family roughly the size of an army.

But if this season is about quiet humility and acts of generosity, then we must remember to look towards children. And Derrick Brooks, a hero of mine, does just that every year.

As someone who grew up in Pensacola, I know how hard Hurricane Ivan hit us. I know that there are incredibly poor families struggling to make ends meet. And Brooks, raised by his mother (who passed away earlier this year), knows, too.

After Hurricane Ivan, Brooks (another FSU alum!) loaded up a truck full of ice and supplies and drove it up to Pensacola for his old neighborhood (many of the residents there are older, and less able to go to Red Cross stations for help in the aftermath of a storm). Every year around Thanksgiving, he brings a turkey dinner to those in need in Pensacola.

Every year, he brings Christmas to a school in Pensacola. This year, despite the loss of his mother, was no exception.
Brooks, a two-time All-American at Florida State, where he also earned his master's degree, explained that he started giving gifts to Escambia County students when his mother called to tell him about a family in need.

"About eight or nine years ago she saw that a family lost its home in a fire," he said. "She called and said, 'Bo, I want to do something special for this family.'"

Brooks decided that rather than just help that one family, he would buy gifts for everyone at their school. And so a tradition was born.

This is the first year Brooks went to a school alone to distribute gifts. His mother, Geraldine Mitchell, who accompanied him in the past, died earlier this year.

But Brooks said he plans to continue the tradition as long as he can. "It's for the smiles," said Brooks, honored last week as one of the top 33 players in 100 years of Florida high school football . "That's what I appreciate - the kids' smiles."

For every Pacman Jones or Michael Vick, there's a sweetheart like Derrick Brooks. Sadly, his story - a man with a master's degree, a wife and 4 kids, and 10 Pro Bowls under his belt as an outside linebacker with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - isn't sexy or salacious enough to merit more than local coverage. What a shame - I'd rather hear about his efforts to make the world a better place than Roddy White wearing a "Free Mike Vick" t-shirt under his jersey.

But what a great reminder of the spirit of the season - and something these kids will never forget.


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