Do 13 years, two Super Bowl rings, and 210 straight starts spell anything? Do sportsmanship, mental toughness, and citizenship carry any weight? These were questions I asked when the New York Giant’s head coach Ben Macadoo decided that washed-up veteran Geno Smith would start in Eli Manning’s place.

All of a sudden, the quarterback who I supported since I began watching the sport had become an insignificant bench warmer, someone in uniform holding play cards rather than a pigskin.

Over the years, I’ve always wondered why the media and the “Twitterverse” don’t give the younger Manning the caliber of respect he deserves.

Some believe he didn’t earn his accolades or that they were simply a product of luck. In October, a player’s poll voted Manning “the most overrated quarterback.” Remember, twice isn’t luck.

You won’t be hard-pressed to find memes of the Giants quarterback scattered across social media. Between the images of his distressed facial expressions to the GIFs of Manning portraying his less than graceful body language, the internet takes pride in putting him down.

While it might be comical for a second or two, he’s one of the only reasons I’d continue to watch the game. The integrity he exudes on and off the field gives the NFL, a league periled by scandal and controversy, a reason to be respected.

Aside from spearheading plays, Manning has been committed to launching initiatives that benefit the lives of children in the New York metro area. His “Kids Tackle Cancer” campaign is exemplary of his dedication to aiding ill children. As a result, Manning received the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award this past February, alongside Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

“As a player in the NFL, we have a global platform to play a game we love and influence an untold number of people,” Manning said. “We have a unique opportunity to make a difference.”

This opportunity he speaks of is often one many NFL players miss.

While Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr equates Manning’s demotion with similar demises of other franchise quarterbacks such as Brett Favre and older brother Peyton, Eli’s situation represents something far more nuanced.

Favre, known for his theatrics and arrogance, was accused of sexual harassment back in 2011. The older Manning was charged with harassing an athletic trainer during his career at Tennessee.

Both quarterbacks were highly revered during their accolade-heavy careers, and considered role models. I’m reminded of Cam Newton, who made heavily sexist remarks, but is marveled at rather than memed.

The younger Manning radiates honor.  

I can’t help but ponder why sports fans idolize and cherish the athletes we do. Are we attached because they play for our team or earn us fantasy points? Maybe, but according to a survey I administered, the majority cited another reason. An athlete’s’ personal character and attitude off the field took precedence for over 20 fans.

If that is so, then how can we show young people inconsistent consequences for unfavorable actions off the field? Morally, why should an athlete who commits a wrong act be given more chances than one who executes exemplary character? It’s quite ironic, isn’t it? Will a job be taken away if someone chooses the higher road rather than a lower one? In line with the current logic, possibly.

According to modern philosopher Daniel Dombrowski, the Ancient Greeks appeared to place distinction on athletes who upheld moral and societal standards. “Greeks had no admiration for athletes who failed in other aspects of their life,” he wrote in his book “Contemporary Athletics and Ancient Greek Ideals.”

While not all hold athletes as responsible role models with Athenian or Herculean qualities, young people especially view their favorite sportsperson as such. A response in my survey that stood out was one that read: “[Athletes] don’t have to be role models, but they should be held to the same standards as the rest of the world.”

Our worldly standards are continuously being questioned, but what isn’t up in the air are exceptional service and leadership on and off the field. Charles Barkley never wanted to be anyone’s role model. But the former 76er and others in his camp cannot deny the Kaiser Family Foundation’s study from 17 years ago.

Seventy-three percent of young people rated “famous athletes among the most admired people in their lives.”

In 2017, the NFL is absolutely despicable. I don’t have orate my laundry list of reasons. The embodiment of Eli Manning, however, is a reason to stay engaged.

“All the love for Eli Manning will come out,” outgoing sports pope Mike Francesa said in reaction to Manning’s benching. “He’s been an athlete you can be proud of.”

The younger Manning has inspired me to persist, and always get up when knocked down.

But I’d like to give him one piece of advice when pondering his future when this season draws to a close. Role models stand when faced with adversity and difficult situations. Manning shouldn’t let any institutional pressure prevent him from doing so.

Tagged: Football

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