View Full Version : Safeties show the good side of this city

12-19-2011, 05:35 PM
Safeties show the good side of this city
Saturday, December 17, 2011
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Look at the safeties, football's offensive coordinators like to preach, because the safeties will usually tell you most everything you need to know.

So on a weeknight in Pittsburgh, amid the growing bleakness of a damp December, two Steelers safeties walk into a downtown building. They are Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy, their bodies battered by 13 accumulated episodes of NFL mayhem, but they are not resting.

Not tonight.

Some 40 children, some as young as 5, await them in a fidgety basement meeting room, and there are many places in this city and this world where five years is more than enough to harbor a virulent skepticism.

"They're not really Steelers," a little boy tells me. "They'll just pretend to be."

"They probably won't show," a slightly older boy says. "It's all a setup."

I want to chuckle, but I can't figure out why that's funny.

It is a setup, by one definition, the one where the very kind of social program that always seems to be under attack is actually making difficult family situations better and more hopeful.

This is a signature event of the county's DADS program (Dads Assisting Dads), a still-evolving initiative of the Office of Children, Youth, and Families within the Department of Human Services. The kids will meet actual Steelers, the Steelers will sign real footballs, the dads will take away priceless photos and an indelible memory.

And now, in walk the safeties.

Eyes widen and jaws drop. They take off their coats and put them on a table in front of the stunned 40. They introduce each other.

"What numbers are you?" someone asks.

"I'm 25," Clark says.

"And I'm 29," says Mundy, "and we watch 43 make all the plays."

Everyone laughs, except maybe for Indigo, who is 13.

"I wanted to see Troy Polamalu," she tells me later.

Clark grabs the first ball and starts signing. He tosses it to an elementary school kid in the first row.

"Look at you smiling," Clark says to him. "I thought only Hines Ward smiled like that when he played football. Now what are you gonna do with this ball, put it somewhere special in the house, or take it out and play with and beat it up, because that's what I'd be doing with it."

In this room on this night, a spontaneous combustion of joy and relief lights the innocent faces of terribly young people, terribly young at least to be unavoidably identified by the bureaucracy as being "in our system."

For 101 reasons, most of them stemming from that weapon of mass destruction we call poverty, their family structures haven't always held up.

"I think this is the most important thing we're allowed to do as athletes," Clark told me after things had calmed a bit. "Other than caring for our own families, there's nothing more important than meeting kids like this, to show them how we feel, that we're not superior to them, we are not separate from them, we are not better than them.

"We are just a part of them and a part of this community."

Important events of a similar spirit happen almost every night thanks to the Steelers, the Penguins, the Pirates and to the countless others who facilitate them. On this same night Sidney Crosby was across town at Children's Hospital, just days after being shelved again by concussion-like symptoms. There he'd joined a host of teammates to combust this same instantaneous joy and relief. The impact can't be quantified, but it is too often undervalued against the constant yammer of wins and losses, money and glory, contracts signed and contracts shredded, "concerns" about the offense, the defense, the power play, the penalty kill and the pure Pittsburgh tedium of who fines whom how much and for what.

When you see some of these dads watch as their sons or daughters meet Ryan Clark and Ryan Mundy, you can feel the impact of these simple gestures.

"I didn't meet a professional athlete until I was 30 years old," one of the dads in the program was saying. "I got to meet Franco Harris and I was, you know, 'Wow!'

"But kids need to be able to see people like this, it's a blessing. When kids just see them on television, they don't seem real. But to talk to them and walk around with them, to have that experience, it's almost inspirational. They might not be so skeptical anymore."

That fella's name was George. He's been in the program for a year and will soon qualify to mentor other dads in the whole initiative's main objective, assisting dads of all ages and cultures navigate the child welfare system, the family court maze and the supplemental social service systems. The events grow steadily more successful, as when one outing included attending an NFL-sponsored All-Pro Dads event, a favored program of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

It's all about finding the good in this city, in this world, and making it shine for the many young people who surely haven't seen quite enough of it.

"It's extremely important," Mundy was saying as we adjourned. "They look up to us, and we have to take any way possible, especially around the holidays, to make them feel good about themselves and to make them feel good about life."

So that was just one night when I can say that I really watched the safeties, and they told me most, if not all, of everything I needed to know.
Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11351/1197548-150-0.stm#ixzz1h1iR1S3R

12-19-2011, 05:43 PM
Good Stuff......on a side note i seen the Chargers Organization gave away bikes to all the kids in the school...That must have been a hefty bill.....:)