If you cover any sport (or any other profession, for that matter) long enough, you're going to be lucky enough to run into those people who just "get it" — the ones who understand their importance to their professions; the ones who want to leave legacies and not just a collection of stats.
Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald is unquestionably one of those people. Not only is he one of the best players in the game, but he's also a committed teammate who didn't throw anybody under the bus last season when the Cardinals' post-Kurt Warner quarterback situation caused his own numbers to drop. He's also a seasoned world traveler who craves more out of life than the view from the mirror, and he's one of the more eloquent spokespeople about the NFL's current labor situation.
I discovered a lot about Fitzgerald when I was fortunate enough to interview him in early March (you can read that interview here and here), but even I was unprepared for what Fitzgerald had to say recently about the responsibility he feels that established NFL players have to their less prosperous brethren in the current labor situation. This is what he told Phoenix radio station KTAR about the idea that younger players might bolt on the lockout because their finances would be in peril the longer it goes:
"Man, we hope not. The NFL Players Association did a fantastic job last year…if they [younger players] were in the league we would invest $50,000 and we be able to get that back depending on how long the lockout was. I think that was a good plan employed by the NFLPA, but for my young guys [like] Stephen Williams, Max Hall, Isaiah Williams, all the guys that are on my team they know if they need anything all they've got to do is pick up the phone and I'm going to be there for them and support them any way I can."
Does Fitzgerald feel that there is an "obligation" there? A moral imperative for every wealthy player? Is it something that needs to be done?
"I don't know if I would say 'need' to help, but I mean … if you find it in your heart to help guys that may be behind the eight-ball, the financial wherewithal, you should [help]. I definitely would. That's just who I am though."
That is indeed who he is, and that's why Larry Fitzgerald is one of the NFL's better examples of true class. One suspects that the longer this lockout goes, the more the Max Halls and Isaiah Williamses of the world will be calling guys like Fitzgerald who do have more in their pockets. If the players are to have a solidarity that lasts through the tough times, there will need to be more people with Fitzgerald's viewpoint.