Forty years later, let’s give thanks to Roberto Clemente

December 31, 2012 | Drew Forrester

Forty years ago today, Roberto Clemente died.

I remember the story vaguely.  As a then-nine year old who grew up loving baseball, Clemente was a player I was very familiar with due to his high-profile play with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  My mom, dad and I went to Memorial Stadium in 1971 to watch the Orioles in the World Series and I always remember my father carefully explaining to me that Clemente was one of those players from the other team you always rooted for because of the fact that he played the game “the right way”.

Ironically, Clemente died “the right way”, too.

On December 31, 1972, Clemente was on-board a plane taking food and other disaster relief items to Nicaragua in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake there some eight days earlier.

The plane crashed and Clemente’s life ended.

He was the rarest of athletes, even back then.  Despite his status, his money and, his future, Roberto Clemente put that aside and climbed into that plane to help people who needed it.

Roberto Clemente wasn’t doing that for his Foundation.  He wasn’t doing it to get on SportsCenter or to be featured in an upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated.  It wasn’t a gimmick to curry favor with his local fan base.

People in Nicaragua needed help and Clemente said, “I’ll help.”

As 2012 comes to an end and a new year arrives, we should all be mindful of the story of Roberto Clemente.

I’d like to see more athletes today take some time to be more actively involved in their community.  And I’d like to see more of them do something to help out “just because they can” rather than “just because I need to”.

Just last week, someone sent me an email about a Ravens player that was involved in an autograph signing session where the player was charging money for his autograph on a piece of paper.  A 10-year old boy finally got his moment with the player and as he scratched his name on a photo of himself in action, the Sharpie type he was using went dry.  The boy, looking to help out, handed the player his own pen, but rather than a Sharpie, it was merely a blue ink pen.  The player said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” and shoved it back in the direction of the young boy.  When an assistant handed him a new Sharpie to sign with, the player said, to no one in particular, “If this one runs out, we’re done for the day.”

Yeah, it sure is an inconvenience to have your Sharpie run out of power when you’re getting money to sign your name, isn’t it?

Those stories bother me greatly.

They bother me because, for starters, the adoring fan deserves better, particularly when his father is paying for the right to have his son meet one of his heroes.

But it bothers me mostly because many of today’s athletes have clearly lost their way.

If you can’t sit at a table and sign autographs for one hour and be nice to everyone, you shouldn’t show up, and that’s not taking into account that you’re getting paid for it.

Roberto Clemente paid the ultimate price for just being nice and he wasn’t getting a dime.

Take a second or two today to remember him on this anniversary of his untimely death and pledge to yourself that sometime soon you’ll reach out and help someone who needs it.  Let that help come in whatever form you decide, but make it a point to lend a hand or an ear or some elbow grease during 2013.