There are exceptions of course but, by and large, our Premiership players and sports stars tend to be pampered, overpaid and prone to brattish behaviour. Not so in Chicago where I am this week for IPW 2014 – the travel industry’s premier international market media place and the largest generator of travel to the US.
Chicagoans are fanatical about their sport – so much so that the question “who do you support?” has replaced “hello, how are you?” as the standard form of introduction in polite society. In Chicago there are only two teams that really matter – the Chicago Cubs (an unlucky but much loved baseball team) and the Chicago Bears – an NFL side.
Prior to arriving in town I didn’t know much about NFL – aka American football – other than that the season culminates in the Super Bowl (the most watched sporting spectacle in the world) where music maestro, Bruno Mars, brought the house down earlier this year with his spectacular half time show.
So I can be forgiven, on a recent bus journey, for not knowing that I was sitting across the aisle from one Robbie Gould – a placekicker for the Chicago Bears – right? Robbie is currently the third most accurate kicker in NFL history and recently signed a new four year deal with the Bears worth $US 15 million dollars. All of which means that Robbie is a pretty big deal here in Chicago.
But refreshingly his fame and success hasn’t inhibited Robbie’s ability to have a giggle and remain astonishly humble. I was struck by how anchored he actually is, as he showed a group of hacks around the hallowed turf that is Soldiers Field. The Bears ground, which was built in 1924, was named Soldiers Field in memory of those who had fought for the Alllies in World War One. As he showed us around Soldiers Field with a huge smile – despite it being a Sunday in off-season, when his wife and young son were miles away in Arizona – I asked the personable NFL player how he handled being ‘stop in the street’ famous in the States. “It’s part of the job,” he replied. “I’d much rather fans were friendly and stopped to say ‘hi’ than didn’t. Chicago has been my home for 1o years now and the city has been very good to me. I get that and will give back in any way I can.”
Wow I’m impressed – they’re not words you can imagine coming out of Wayne Rooney’s mouth, right?! But as great Gould is, Fergie Jenkins is in a class of his own.
The former Major League Baseball right handed pitcher was the first Canadian to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. His parents escaped the Southern United States to Ontario through the Underground Railroad and instilled in Fergie, a love of sports. Growing up Fergie excelled at hockey, basketball and baseball and could have played any of the aforementioned professionally, but chose baseball after being spotted by Tony Lucadello – a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies – who was quick to recognise Fergie’s raw talent.
But despite having spent several years scouting him, the Phillies traded Jenkins to the Cubs after a year. Fergie made his debut for the Cubs on 23 April 1966 and never looked back: he won at least 20 games in each of six consecutive seasons (1967–72) while playing for the Cubs.
From 1974 to 1981 Jenkins pitched for the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox, compiling a record of 115 wins and 93 losses before returning to the Cubs in 1982, where he pitched for two more years before retiring. He finished his career with a record of 284 wins and 226 losses and with an ERA of 3.34 and his 3,192 strikeouts place him 10th among the all-time leaders.
Fergie is now ‘officially’ retired but even in retirement shows no sign of slowing down. He supports many charities, including cancer and diabetes having lost loved ones to these illnesses, and takes part in numerous charity events both in the US and his native Canada. In 2000 he registered his charity foundation, The Fergie Jenkins Foundation. Wait, there’s more: Fergie is also involved in the 100th anniversary celebrations of Wrigley Field – his old stomping ground with the Cubs.
Why is he so generous with his time? That’s easy, he told me while we watched the Cubs take on the Phillies at Wrigley Field last Sunday: “My Father always told me that you meet the same people on the way up in life, as you do on the way down. It’s hugely important to give back. We must all remember this.”
The likes of Luis Suárez, Carlos Tevez and John Terry should take note. I’m not asking them to behave like the Dalai Lama but prominent sports stars are in the public eye and thus – whether they like it or not – role models. They have – as Robbie Gould and Fergie Jenkins are only too aware – a responsibility to conduct themselves in a socially acceptable manner.