It appears that unlike generations past, when most professional sports heroes embraced their responsibilities to the youth of America, and were willing to sacrifice for the greater good, grounded on God, family and country (Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Roberto Clemente come to mind), today, too many of them are caught up in the selfishness, narcissism and voyeurism of the culture, and give more value to “bling,” living it up with celebrities, and flaunting a lifestyle that most of their fans will never experience, than using restraint, humility and protecting their image. In fact, some even thrive on the bad boy image (i.e., Dennis Rodman and Mike Tyson).
Admittedly this may be an unfair generalization, but for the past couple of decades, it seems that you can’t turn on the news without hearing about athletes embroiled in scandal; Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tiger Woods, Tyson, Kobe Bryant, Michael Vick, Andre Agassi, Lawrence Taylor, and even some with more All-American images like Mark McGuire, Brett Farve and Lance Armstrong. Granted, the media scrutiny and relentless hunt to knock down public figures has never been greater.
Most football fans would recognize Rivers, as a two-time Pro-Bowler, who is considered one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, but not many know his prowess off the field, as a man, husband, father and youth activist.
I’ll admit knowing little about him until last week. I was switching through the channels and came across a program on EWTN, where he was the invited guest.
I tell you what; I was totally impressed by his faith, his character, and his commitment to his wife, family and society.
When asked about being a role model, Rivers answered, “It’s a responsibility we must accept as professional athletes. It comes with it, regardless of whether you want to be one or not. In this society and culture, these kids watch athletes on TV and that’s what kids want to be… I feel like I have been given a platform.”
He went on, “It’s so hard to keep our kids focused on what’s important; on the foundation of our faith, seeing what is worshipped in our culture. It’s a challenge and even more of a challenge with the Internet and social media.”
Rivers was raised in a very devout Roman Catholic family in Athens, Alabama (not exactly known for its Catholic population). His father was a high school football coach. At an early age, he was introduced to the faith, prayer, and acts of charity. He grew up with a passion for Christ and the Church, and even served as an altar boy.
|Tiffany and Philip Rivers|
While the medium age of people getting married for the first time continues to rise, and some waiting until their 30’s to tie the knot, Rivers and Tiffany got married after his freshman year at North Carolina State University. He was 19. She was 18 and freshly converted to the Catholic faith. They have been married for ten years and have five children (four daughters and a son) with a sixth child due in October.
Rivers says faith and a common desire to help each grow in holiness and to raise their family is the key to their success as a couple.
“No matter what the outcome of the game, you come home and you’re still dad to your kids. And that’s where it really settles in, that, as important and as much time as you put into football, they (family) think you did great no matter what.”
“That balance of the family at home, with our faith; teaching the kids the faith, having family prayer, going to Mass together and then football… That’s our role as dads. It is raising our kids in the faith. We always say a blessing at supper, the family rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet; things they can see and touch, that has long lasting impact on them and they can carry it into their families one day.”
Another one of Rivers’ commitments is going to high schools to talk to teens about chastity and living chastely.
“I think it’s often seen as too hard or unrealistic. But, it certainly is.”
He compares it to his professional sport lifestyles and says he learned at an early age to “bounce his eyes.”
“We’re in a position, because of the pedestal we are put on, the money that’s involved, and the TV, that people think our temptations are greater. It’s a matter of not putting yourself in these situations. You have the means and are in these big cities. It’s about having a plan beforehand and avoiding being put in tempting situations.”
“I hold on tight to the sacraments, and the faith, and the Church, and my family. And that’s when the football seems to be at its best; when you have everything in order.”
He also tells kids that just because they have already been sexually active, there’s no reason to give up trying to live chastely.
“It’s never too late. We all fall and stumble. But, keep going. That’s one of the beauties of the sacrament of reconciliation.”
As if that wasn’t enough, last year, Rivers and his wife started a charitable foundation called Rivers of Hope, which helps place abandoned children with adoptive or foster families.
“We are pro-life and wanted to help somehow. My wife and I started talking and thought, what about those kids that are given life but don’t have a mom and dad to tuck them in at night? How can we give them hope?”
They're giving them hope by bringing awareness to the plight of thousands of kids in foster programs, who are looking for permanent homes, and trying to match them with adoptive parents. They also have a birthday club, so that kids who are in transit to and from foster homes or adoptions, are never forgotten on their birthday.
Now how’s that for positive role model?
Check out Rivers on Life on the Rock. He appears about 8:30 into the program…