Often when we read about the off-field exploits of professional athletes the focus is on scandalous behavior: drugs, alcohol, violence, infidelity. It was refreshing to read this week about former pro football player Keith Fitzhugh, who gained notoriety for doing something unexpected but commanded of us: honoring his father and mother.
With several players going down with injuries, the New York Jets desperately needed help in their defensive backfield as they looked to make a run at the Super Bowl. They knew Fitzhugh, who had been in their training camp the past two years only to be cut from the squad, so they rang him up with an offer to rejoin the team immediately. Granted, the Jets weren't throwing tons of money at him or guaranteeing him a permanent spot on their roster; still, what 24-year-old who has dreamed of playing in the NFL wouldn't jump at a chance to pull on the pads again and possibly play his way into a long-term deal?
But the former Mississippi State standout said no.
"I know the Jets have a great opportunity of making the Super Bowl, and that's one dream that every child has is to play sports and make it to the Super Bowl or get to the World Series," Fitzhugh told The Associated Press. "But, there's a time when you have to think, 'Hey, you've only got one mom and dad.' They won't be here forever, and while they're here, you've got to cherish that time."
After the Jets cut him prior to this season, Fitzhugh decided to head back home, land a steady job, and help take care of his mother and his father, who is unable to work because of a disability. He's been a conductor for Norfolk Southern Railroad for the past three months.
"I've got something now where I know every two weeks I'm getting a paycheck," said Fitzhugh, who had a brief stint with the Baltimore Ravens last December before re-signing with the Jets in the offseason. "I don't want to let [Norfolk Southern] down or run from them because I got a shot for a couple of weeks. I just feel that that's not right at the moment. I'm looking more long-term in life right now than the short-term."
In talking to the press this week, Jets coach Rex Ryan reacted to Fitzhugh's surprising decision: "That's one of the reasons why we wanted that kid. He's a tough guy. He's a guy with a lot of character. He's just a really outstanding young man. The decision that he made was a tough one for him, but I admire his decision."
As we debate whether our children should look to athletes as role models, maybe we need to consider not only the superstars but those like Fitzhugh who make the tough call to put the quest for fame and fortune aside for something that's much more lasting.
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12).
Fitzhugh explains his decision to ESPN's Ducis Rodgers: