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05-03-2005, 03:01 AM

Star power

Richardson uses fame to help others


There were four television cameras shooting video Monday afternoon at the Barstow School. See, there was a panel discussion about world hunger. There was a fairly remarkable group on stage, too, a world hunger All-Star Team. The panel included Food for Peace director Lauren Landis; Judith Lewis, the director of the United Nations' World Food Program; and Bert Farrish from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These are accomplished people, people who travel all over the world, people who have their hands in billions of dollars in food aid. They discussed the crippling problems of hunger in the world. They talked about how more than 800 million people worldwide are not getting enough to eat. They talked about how more people die of starvation every year than the combined population of Kansas and Missouri.

They talked about how Barstow students could help raise awareness of hunger.

One suggestion was to write letters to newspapers and television stations.

“Look,” Judith Lewis told the students as she pointed. “There are television cameras here. These people care about world hunger.”

Sadly, she was slightly mistaken.

The cameras, all of them, were pointed at Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson.

“Tony, do you feel like the Chiefs' defense improved this offseason?” was the question posed to Richardson just minutes after the panel discussion ended.

“Well, I think with the additions of Kendrell Bell and Patrick Surtain and those guys, our defense has a chance to be real good,” Richardson said.

OK, yes, it seemed a bit strange after 75 minutes of very serious talk about world hunger, about starvation and death, to hear questions and answers about the Chiefs' defense. But this is how it works. This is the deal.

Tony Richardson gets it.

He knows that if he talks a little football, he might do a little good, too.

You know this: Tony Richardson is a good football player. He's not a star; he's no Priest Holmes or Tony Gonzalez or Brett Favre. But he is a good football player, a blue-collar guy who blocks and catches some passes and plays his heart out. And he knows that as a good football player, he can help people. He can raise money for charity. He can be an inspiration to kids. He can bring the cameras out to the Barstow School for a discussion on hunger.

He gets it.

Richardson never stops looking for ways to help. Three months ago, for instance, he went to Sri Lanka to help distribute food after the tsunami wrecked a dozen countries, killed more than 250,000 people, left more than a million without homes. Richardson flew the 8,000 miles to Sri Lanka right after playing in the Pro Bowl — the next day, in fact. He would not have missed a chance like that, a chance to go halfway across the world and make a difference. It's what Richardson is all about.

Now, Richardson goes around and talks to people about what he saw. That's why he was part of this food panel Monday. He could not talk with any authority about the efforts to fight hunger in Africa while the AIDS crisis grows. He could not discuss the question of whether America would be better off providing food or money for shattered nations. He's no expert on the issues of world hunger and does not pretend to be.

He could, however, talk with feeling about handing families a week's ration: four little bags of rice, a few beans and a little bit of oil.

And because Richardson plays professional football well, the kids paid attention to him. The cameras followed him. The reporter — that would be me — wrote down his words.

“It can be hard to sleep at night,” he says, “when you see kids go hungry.”

The point here is not to question all of this. Are sports overblown? Of course. Are there more important things going on in America? Of course. Should we care more about things such as hunger and education and crime and less about football? Of course.

But as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick likes to say, it is what it is. We like football. We like our athletes. We listen to them. We ask them for autographs. We hang their posters in our rooms. We give them excessive coverage.

And so, professional athletes can do what they want with all of that. They can complain about it. They can ignore it. They can make money off of it.

Or they can do some real good with their moment in the spotlight. Let's be brutally honest: There probably would not have been any news coverage of this hunger panel had it not been for Richardson. No cameras. No reporters. Many of the students would not have been as interested without him there.

He made a difference.

Richardson says that next year, he plans to go to Africa to help out and learn more about the AIDS crisis there. Then, he says, he will come back and talk about it. And because he's Tony Richardson, two-time Pro Bowler, one of the leaders on the Kansas City Chiefs, people will listen. He will try to make a difference again.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a former professional athlete about athletes as role models. He was saying that athletes are not role models. He was saying that parents are role models, big brothers and sisters are role models, leaders in the neighborhood are role models. Athletes, he said, are just people who play games well.

I told him all of that was probably true.

But I told him that athletes can be role models, if they want. They have the floor. They have the stage. The cameras will follow anywhere they go. Sunday, after a playoff game, the cameras followed a Memphis Grizzlies player named Jason Williams as he took a reporter's pen and shouted in his ear and acted like a fool.

Monday, the cameras followed Tony Richardson as he tried to raise awareness about world hunger.

It's pretty simple, really. The choice is theirs.

05-03-2005, 03:05 AM
A great Article