Top 10 Good Guys in Sports

When you watch a running back shed tacklers with less effort than it takes you to brush crumbs off your shirt, then see him at the press conference in a suit that costs more than your house, it’s easy to set high expectations for the guy—and not just on-the-field expectations. You and your buddies take Sundays off to kick back on the couch with some munchies, but when Ricky Williams does it, well, he might as well have kicked Grandma down the stairs.

We like to forget that professional athletes are actual, flawed human beings—with feelings and problems (and, sure, an occasional psychological disorder) like the rest of us. What sets them apart? A lifetime of dedication and discipline few of us could match.

For this list we picked 10 dedicated pros who also happen to be really good guys. None of them is perfect. If punching a fan was on your rap sheet, you still had a shot. Kicking an opponent? Sure. Appearing on Baywatch? Why not. Providing gainful employment to Ben Roethlisberger? That was fine too. We drew the line somewhere near homicide and actually being Ben Roethlisberger.

But don’t fret, Ben. We put this together with our friends at Deadspin, and they have a list too. Check out their “Top 10 Bad Guys in Sports.”


10. Roger Federer

In 2006, Federer appeared in India to visit tsunami victims after 18,000 people, many of them children, were reported missing or presumed killed in that country alone. He refused to talk tennis.

Federer has aided victims of Hurricane Katrina. He became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. He’s worked to raise AIDS awareness. He organizes charity drives for Haiti.

Feeling bad about yourself yet?

When Forbes Magazine listed its 100 most powerful celebrities, Federer was No. 29, one spot behind LeBron James, one ahead of Brad Pitt, seven behind Steven Spielberg, and 28 behind Oprah. He was on the list not solely because of his prowess with a racket, but because of an increasing global signature for being one of the more generous celebrities in all of sports.


9. Grant Hill

Grant Hill was born into American royalty. His father, who played for the Dallas Cowboys, was a frat brother of George W. Bush. Hill’s mother roomed with Hillary Clinton. On the night Hill was drafted by the Detroit Pistons, he got a congratulatory phone call from President Bill Clinton.

People have become far more egotistical over much less. But that’s the beauty of Grant Hill: there isn’t an arrogant bone in his body. Just confidence.

Hill went to Duke before his 17-year NBA career unfolded. Along the way, he emerged as one of the league’s most trusted and visible personalities. (That cameo on Home Improvement didn’t hurt. It may not have helped, exactly, but whatever.)

Grant Hill’s charity list is long. He’s donated $1 million to Duke, given $50,000 to Child Abuse Protection, created scholarships for underprivileged kids in Orlando and Detroit, and done about every other charitable thing you’d want from a pro athlete. But what’s most telling is the one run-in he had with the NBA’s league offices.

Back when he was with Orlando, Hill cost the Magic $15,000 for violating salary cap rules. His transgression: winning a $50,000 check to be donated to the charity of his choice for his “outstanding community service.” The $50,000, supposedly, bumped Hill’s contract over the league maximum.


8. Kelly Slater

In May, Congress passed a resolution that “recognizes and honors Robert Kelly Slater for winning the 2010 Rip Curl Pro Bell Championship and for his other outstanding achievements in the world of surfing.” The resolution—a laundry list of Slater’s achievements in and out of the water—passed by a voice vote without any apparent opposition.

By our calculations, Kelly Slater’s greatness is the first thing that the government has agreed on since … well, forever.

Late last year, Slater won his 10th world surfing championship—twice as many as the guy in second. He was 38. He also won it when he was 20. He’s both the youngest and the oldest champion—a level of sustained greatness you don’t see anywhere. He’s one of the most dominant male athletes in history—yet he seems stuck as nothing more than a footnote in pop-culture consciousness.

After Slater won his 10th title, Quiksilver donated $10,000 to 10 different charities of Slater’s choice. In 2007, he founded the Kelly Slater Foundation, which raises awareness and money for both environmentally and socially conscious charities.

Whether he returns for an 11th shot at a title remains to be seen. But no matter what, Slater’s left his mark with righteous dignity. We hope it lives on for years.


7. Tony Gonzalez


Perhaps the greatest tight end in the history of the NFL once saved a man’s life:

Three years ago Gonzalez was at a California restaurant with his family when a man sitting at a table next to him began choking on a piece of steak. The man’s girlfriend noticed and began screaming for help. Gonzalez calmly walked over, wrapped his arms around the man’s abdomen, and performed the Heimlich maneuver. The obstruction easily popped out.

“She was screaming, ‘He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe,’” Gonzalez told the Associated Press. “The whole restaurant was quiet. Nobody was doing anything. Then I saw he was turning blue. Everybody in the restaurant was just kind of sitting there wide-eyed.”

So, in total, Gonzalez has 11 Pro Bowls, the record for career touchdowns for a tight end, career receptions for a tight end, career receiving yards for a tight end, and one life saved. Not bad.

Gonzalez has done work with the Kidney Foundation and has also started several small businesses. For well over a decade, he’s been known as one of the NFL’s great public ambassadors. He’s a favorite with the media; every player in the sport sees him as one of its leaders. Gonzalez is a strong personality and a respected one. He’s considered one of the more stable personalities in all of sports.


6. The Rooney Family

“They epitomize what family-run businesses can mean to a place,” wrote Ben McGrath in The New Yorker.

In 1933, in honor of his son Dan’s first birthday, Art Rooney bought the Pittsburgh Pirates football team for $2,500. Another $2,500 in entrance fees made them an NFL team. Ten years later, the team was renamed the Steelers. Seventy-five years later, the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl—this time, under Art Rooney II.

In 2009, Sports Illustrated named the Rooney family the best owners in the NFL. “At the end of the day,” they wrote, “the Rooneys have won a record six Super Bowl trophies and have given Pittsburgh, an industrial town that always seems to be hit hardest in tough economic times, its biggest source of civic pride”—not to mention stability.

They’ve managed to maintain consistency and success by also being willing agents of change. The Rooney Rule, named after Dan, requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any open head coach or general manager position. They were the first franchise to have a neurosurgeon on the sideline and use an objective test for cognitive problems.

Dan and Art are already in the Hall of Fame. It’ll be no surprise if Art II joins them one day soon.


5. Tim Howard

An African-Hungarian-American with divorced parents—and Tourette’s. It couldn’t have been easy for Tim Howard growing up in New Jersey. Ten-year-olds don’t take well to a kid who can’t stop blinking and coughing.

Now the starting keeper for Everton in the English Premier League and for the United States National Team, Howard’s acrobatics, aggression, and quick reflexes make him one of the best goalies in the world.

When he’s done playing, there’s a good chance we’ll consider him the greatest American soccer player of all time. But ask Howard if he’d ever get rid of Tourette’s, and he’ll say:

It is always there. A cough or a tic or clearing my throat, blinking a lot. Honestly, I would miss it if it weren’t there. If you offer me the chance to not have it, I wouldn’t take it.

In 2001 Howard won the MLS’s Humanitarian of the Year award for his work with children with Tourette’s. He serves on the board of directors for the Tourette Syndrome Association of New Jersey, where he talks to children about his battle with the disorder.


4. Craig Breslow

Breslow graduated from Yale in 2002 with degrees in biochemistry and molecular physics. He’s a left-handed relief specialist with Oakland. He’s been called the smartest athlete alive.

Matt McCarthy, author of Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound With a Minor League Misfit, calls him lots of other things:

“What initially drew me to Craig was his quiet confidence and even-keeled nature. He was the calming presence amid the flurry of activity at Yale, and he always knew what to say when disaster struck.

“When I failed my first calculus exam as a freshman, he was there to pick up the pieces. When my high-school girlfriend dumped me, he was there to point out her flaws. And within a week he had set me up on a blind date that ultimately failed, because, as Craig put it, ‘You can’t kiss a girl on the forehead on the first date. It just makes you look like an impotent creep.’”

Last season with Oakland he finished with 71 strikeouts, a career high. Breslow remains as effective as ever.

No longer a student, Breslow now assists perfect strangers in a different sort of need. He raises money for pediatric cancer research and has teamed with some of the smartest minds and largest cancer fighting groups in the world.

All of these things are Breslow: Good friend. Smart pitcher. Guy who can discuss thermodynamic equilibrium and velocity distribution. Relentless student on and off the mound.


3. Ryan Miller

As a kid, Ryan Miller’s father told him to just make the save and get on with the game. Don’t worry about the highlight reel.

So that’s what Miller does. He just makes the save, and then another save, and then another, and then another …

Always a prodigy of sorts—one of the only goalies to ever win the Hobey Baker award, hockey’s Heisman—Miller became a national name last winter when he led the unremarkable U.S. team to within an overtime goal of the Olympic gold medal, and was named tournament MVP.

He also won the Vezina trophy, given to the NHL’s best goalie. But the NHL Foundation Player Award, awarded to the player who “applies the core values of (ice) hockey—commitment, perseverance and teamwork—to enrich the lives of people in his community,” might be Miller’s most important accolade yet.

After his 16-year-old cousin was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005, Miller and his father created the Steadfast Foundation, designed to help cancer patients, especially children, cope with the disease. Miller organizes family parties and therapeutic play. Their biggest event each year is the Catwalk for Charity, a fashion show featuring Miller and his Buffalo Sabres teammates as the models.

“We try to complement the medicine that those brilliant doctors and amazing hospital staff do every day,” Miller has said. “For our part, we just want to try to add a sense of normalcy and humanity to kids’ lives.”


2. Ron Artest

Ron Artest once walked into the stands and punched out a handful of Detroit Pistons fans. He’s admitted to drinking Hennessy at halftime. He applied for a job at Circuit City, so he could get an employee discount—while he was in the NBA. He asked for time off from the NBA because he was tired from promoting his rap album. He’s been on the cover of Penthouse.

And that’s just a small sample.

The picture of mental health, Artest is not. When the cameras caught him after the Lakers won game seven of last year’s NBA finals, we all held our breath. Is he going to take his clothes off? Eat the microphone? No. He thanked his psychiatrist. Over the past year, he’s become one of the most outspoken—and most active—professional athletes on mental-health issues.

Artest has fought with these issues his whole life. He’s attended counseling sessions ever since his parents divorced when he was 13. But after an arrest two years ago, he began to take the issues more seriously. And now he’s trying to give back.

In December, Artest raffled off his one and only NBA championship ring, raising over $500,000 for Xcel University, his own charity that helps high-risk youths with mental issues. He’s pledged to donate “either all or some” of his 2011 salary—$6.79 million—to mental-health charities. Artest has also worked with California legislators to promote the Mental Health in Schools Act.

“Anybody going through problems, they could identify their problems with any individual kid and be like, ‘Wow, I’m going through what he’s going through,’” Artest has said. “When you’re weak mentally, there’s nothing a kid can do.”


1. Cullen Jones

What didn’t kill Cullen Jones made him really, really fast.

When he was 5, he nearly drowned after falling out of his tube and landing in a splashdown pool at a water park in Pennsylvania. Within days, his mother put in swimming classes at their local New Jersey YMCA.

Eighteen years later, he won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics with Michael Phelps in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

Now, Jones is 26. As an African-American, he’s trying to make the water safe for other minorities by touring the country with Make a Splash, a foundation hoping to encourage safety and minority participation in swimming.

Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional death of children younger than 19. According to Make a Splash, 70 percent of African-American children and 60 percent of Hispanic children were at risk of drowning, compared to 40 percent of whites.

Jones won a $400,000 federal pilot program in Northern New Jersey. He’s also hoping for an increase in the Center for Disease Control’s drowning-prevention budget.

“The thing that I would say is, don’t project your own fears onto your kids,” Jones said. “Enable them. My mom went against the grain. She didn’t know how to swim. When I almost drowned, she got me into swim lessons. She didn’t want to hold me away.”


More from Good Sports:

Boston Herald columnist and sports radio personality Steve Buckley recently came out. We have a candid conversation.

Ben Roethlisberger thinks sexual assault is alright—and it’s all our fault. We Make the A**holes.

This guy made $7000 profit reselling his BCS Championship tickets, then got in the game for $300. Scalping the Scalpers

Bethlehem Shoals isn’t a sports fan, he’s a sports critic. There’s a difference. Somewhere Between Winning and Losing

What happens when a New England sports fan moves in with a New York fan? A Masshole in Manhattan

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  3. Milos Mijatovic says:

    Son, we sports men hard

  4. Milos Mijatovic says:

    Sorry. I didn`t see right it`s CULLEN. Sorry , yeah, Cullen Mijatovic

  5. Milos Mijatovic says:

    Thinking… Culien is hard with those white teeth showing, first time I hear CULIEN as a name, I might name my son after him, CULIEN 🙂

  6. The power of sports as means of value education., conflict transformation and peacbuilding, community driven development , life skills and personal development cannot be overlooked. I have taken initiatives in the use of sports for peace and development and would like to do more. I do not have the financial capacity but I have a heart and a land resource , two pieces each measuring about seven acres that I would realy wish to donate for the construction of a sports and development … training facility for the training of children and youtng people in all sorts of sports in order for them to become agents of peaceful change in the world. The land is primely located at the shores of Lake Kanyaboli and the Foot of Got Akara (Akara Hills) in Siaya County Kenya. I am looking for great sports men and women big hearted enough to join me in this and contribute in any way by mobilizing all purpose resources to support putting up of this facility. One does not need to a be practising sports person. Even an investor who is willing to create wealth and share the proceeds to invest in transforming the world throough children and young persons tby way of sports can contribute. This initiative can be supported through Seeds Of Peace Afruica (SOPA) International.For more information please visit Seeds Of Peace Africa Web or contact the director or myself , founder chairman of the organization. Thanks for your magnamity.

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  8. Let me get this straight: Colin Cowherd is calling John Wall a “Ni**er,” even though he never said the word, by indicating his opinion on showmanship. Yet, it is not racist to name a black man the number one nice guy in sports because he survived being black and playing a “white sport” in America. Awesome!

  9. Dison Paraforte says:

    Hilarious leave out the man nominated for a Laureus Award, who has won titles in 8 different divisions in Boxing. He also was elected as Congressman of the Phillipines and helps out millions of people around the world. He just helped his sparring partner in California buy his first home. Manny Pacqiuao.
    Bad journalism leaving Pac out.

  10. For the most part, I loved the list.

    Consider Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast. Not only is he an incredible soccer player, but has worked tirelessly to end injustice and killings in his country. He even helped stop civil war in his country!

  11. Johann Olaf Koss has always been one of the first people I think of when I think of “good guys” in sports.

  12. No Niklas Lidstrom?!?! The man oozes perfection. Everyone refers to him as the perfect gentleman.

  13. Andres Iniesta is a class act on or off the field. A soccer bodhisattva!

  14. Everton’s stalwart goalkeeper and USA No. 1 Tim Howard is an inspired choice. Kudos!

  15. Joe Paterno. He’s probably hung on too long, and he’s certainly made his mistakes as a coach and as a person. But overall, he’s an ambassador for sport and academics that we’ve never had before and will probably never have again.

  16. I almost had water come out of my nose when I saw Tony Gonzalez on this list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great he does charity work or whatever. But when it comes to fan interactions and things like that, he’s got a decade-long reputation as one of the biggest jerks in the NFL

    • yes thats right dave, just because a sportsman gives to charities doesnt make him a good person. i know a young girl (now woman) who grew up next door to a very famous cricketer – him and his older brother raped this woman repeatedly for many years whilst the drunk mother turned an eye.
      im also aware of an mp who has a lot to do with homeless kids whos victim claimed to be sexually abused by him and his brother for many years also.
      just because somebody is famous and gives to charities etc doesnt make them a good person as sometimes there are alterior motives to getting into these chrities.

  17. Scott Fujita of the Saints didn’t make the cut?

  18. how about dikembe mutumbo? he is building hospitals in his native congo

  19. stevewinter says:

    Artest is an excellent selection. Being a a bad man and then working at being a Good man is not easy, I give him credit!

    • So Mike Vick and Ray Lewis should be on this list if you want to use that rationale.

      If Artest is trying to improve himself that’s admirable. But if you’re talking about Good Men in sports why should the guys who have always been good men lose out on the distinction to a psychopath who punched out a fan during a game?? It makes absolutely no sense.

      How about Ray Allen for his work to fight diabetes? Or Tedy Bruschi for taking less money to stay with the Patriots, then fighting his way back from a stroke?

      • Ryan O'Hanlon says:

        The Boston bias never ceases to amaze me.

        It’s fine you don’t think Artest should be on the list. No one is going to agree with all of our choices, but here’s why we chose him:

        -Artest has had some pretty rough mental health issus stemming from his childhood—the divorce of his parents and countless other things that we’ll never know about

        -He’s, admittedly, struggled with these. Hence, the opening paragraph of his profile

        -He’s worked real hard to overcome those issues. He’s still working to overcome them, but he’s doing 1000x better. On top of that, he’s trying to help out kids who’ve struggled with his problems.

        -READ the profile. Look at what he’s done. He sold HIS RING for charity. He’s donating a large chunk—if not all—of his salary for kids with mental problems

        To call him a “psychopath” is completely unfair. It’s not funny, and it makes light of all of the guy’s past problems.

        • I have some pretty compelling video from the Palace that backs up the psychopath claim. It wasn’t meant to be funny, it was meant to be accurate and realistic.

          Like I said, it’s good that he’s cleaning up his act. But that does not excuse him destroying television cameras during games. Or fighting his coach Pat Riley. Or for being so negligent as a dog owner he had his Great Dane taken away from him because he DIDN’T FEED IT!

          I understand mental health issues. They run in my family. I’m not unsympathetic. But I am, however, unwilling to basically label him a saint on par with the rest of that distinguished list when he has all that other stuff to his name. He doesn’t deserve it. Plain and simple.

  20. Daniel Alfredsson, of the Ottawa Senators, has also been a champion of mental health issues and an inspiration to a lot of people in the Nation Capital Region. He has provided leadership and integrity both on and off the ice.

  21. Alexander Shapiro says:


    What about all the international work Michael Schumacher has been doing with Puma for Man Shoes?

  22. Chalkwhite says:

    I’d add in Luol Deng to this list- a Lost Boy from Sudan, he’s become a world-class humanitarian.

  23. Talpostal says:

    Warrick Dunn. He may be retired but he belongs at the top of this list.

    He raised his five brothers and sisters after his single-parent mother, a police officer, was murdered a few days after his 18th birthday…and that doesn’t even begin to cover the work he’s done for charity.

    If anybody is unfamiliar with his story, it’s absolutely worth a read.

  24. I would have liked to see Michael Phelps on this list.

    • swim chick says:

      um….no. Did you read the title of this article/magazine? Its for people that are about positively reflecting humanity and their sport.

  25. Not to take away anything from the guys who made the list, but it seems like you left off quite a lot of international sports athletes. Just sayin’

  26. Villanova’s Matt Szscur. It’s one thing to give money; it’s another to take yourself out of the baseball season (and be willing to miss a football title game) to donate stem cells to a toddler with leukemia.

  27. Wow, totally shocked about Artest but I do get where you’re coming from. My issue is with calling him a “Good Guy.” His histrionics off and on the court make him a dubious role model at best.

    Surprised to not see Steve Nash, Drew Brees, Warrick Dunn.

  28. What about Jim Thome or Mike Sweeney?

  29. Digging the Artest selection, didn’t see it coming, but totally get it. I follow the NBA intently, and ron ron is one of the most interesting birds in the association. I think, sometimes, things get jumbled up in the process for him, but I think at his core he is an intensely introspective person who wants to do good. The window dressing, though, on Artest is that Queensbridge upbringing.

  30. Yes to Ron Artest, no to Drew Brees…brilliant.

  31. Ron Artest? RON ARTEST?!? Sorry. I can’t take anything else on this list seriously after reading that.

    • I guess your lily white and have never been forgiven for any thing you’ve done wrong? Give me a break

      • I’ve done many things for which forgiveness has been necessary. That’s why I don’t deserve to be on a Top 10 List of Wonderful People. There are countless others who deserve it more than I do.

        You act like I’m saying “Ron Artest is incapable of doing good.” Not the case. If this were a Top 10 Rehabilitated Men in Sports or Top 10 Most Misunderstood Athletes, cases could be made for Artest. But take a look at the other suggestions in the comments section. Most of them absolutely deserve to be on the list instead of Artest with all the great things they’ve done with their power, money and fame.

  32. Troy Polamulu needs to be on this list

  33. andre agassi, hands down.

  34. So – 9 Americans and Federer. It’s the dreaded “world series” syndrome again, eh? 😉

  35. I think Derek Fisher would have been a great fit for this.


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