Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of columns centered on power of athletes off the field. To read part one click here.
Ty Detmer has walked the talk his whole life.
Steve Faucett didn’t know he would die within a few days, but he realized he was not getting better and things were serious as he battled for his life in the critical care unit of Utah Valley Regional Medical Center 26 years ago.
A huge BYU fan, his neighbors rallied to try and lift his spirits, including me. I called Ty Detmer, then a BYU freshman football player who I’d become acquainted with during his senior season at San Antonio’s Southwest High School in 1986. Though Detmer was years away from achieving the fame that was his in years to come, I asked him if he could visit Faucett and cheer him up. Detmer showed up at Steve’s bedside and talked football for 15 minutes. When Detmer left, although in pain and his organs failing him, you couldn’t get the smile off Faucett’s face. Detmer had that kind of impact on Faucett in his remaining days.
A few months later, again, I imposed on Detmer. I asked him if he’d be interested in joining some Boy Scouts for a Dutch oven dinner and fishing at Scofield. Detmer agreed to spend time with the boys. He drove to Scofield Reservoir and met me near a dirt road at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday 26 years ago. I sat in my car waiting, not knowing if he’d come through. At 5:48 I saw dust from a car, and as it got closer, it was Detmer in his Ford Bronco.
Steve Curt, now a Pleasant Grove resident, remembers. “In 1988, I was the coach of a group of Varsity Scouts in Orem. These young men were not all avid outdoor type Scouts, but we managed to convince them that a week at Bristlecone High Adventure Camp (at the top of Price Canyon — above Scofield Reservoir) would be fun.
“I was totally amazed that Ty made the time and would drive that far for a bunch of boys,” said Curt. “Later, I would learn that Ty loved the outdoors — but he loved people even more; especially young people.
“I was also amazed at how much of a gentleman he was (definitely not the prima donna superstar we see all too often) and how kind he was to everyone. I don't remember anything he said, but I remember he made sure everyone was comfortably included in the activity. Everyone went home feeling a little better about themselves and about the world because Ty reached out to each of us.”
A couple of weeks ago, Detmer established a Facebook page to market his hunting ranch near Austin, Texas. A man who befriended him messaged Detmer that his father was to undergo heart surgery and asked if he could call him in the hospital. He did. After the surgery, Detmer called again to check on his status. The man was beside himself with gratitude that Detmer took the time and cared. It lifted him.
This past week, he spoke at an LDS fireside in Salem, piggybacking an appearance at a 7-on-7 passing tournament where he spoke at a clinic in Draper.
Detmer, it seems, gets it. There is a power to influence given him, and it would be selfish to not be involved where he can make a difference. God gave him talent; shined a light on him. He uses that sports light to highlight others.
“That’s the way I was raised,” said Detmer. “My father had a hard time saying ‘no’ to people. When people asked him for a favor, he couldn’t refuse. I’ve kind of made that a part of my own life.”
The above Detmer anecdotes are a sliver of hundreds of such acts by the man who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December 2012.
Detmer is part of a movement nationwide to invite athletes from all backgrounds, races, geographics and sports to step forward and use their celebrity to help others.
Spearheaded by Dustin Smith, it is called Especially for Athletes (E4A) and its concepts are included in a book due out this month by Smith and co-author Shad Martin with a foreword by Detmer.
“There is a lot of responsibility in being an athlete not only to your team, but to the others you may influence,” said Detmer.
“I have been fortunate to be in a position to influence others through athletics and have personally seen the impact athletes can have both for the positive and the negative. In this age of sports we sometimes get caught up in getting ahead instead of living in the moment and taking the time to influence others in a positive way.”
Detmer said a perfect example of this was given in an LDS conference talk by David Beck, general Young Men’s president. He told the story of Chy Johnson, a young woman victimized by bullying in school. An athlete, Carson Jones, answered the call by Chy’s mother to find out who was doing the bullying. Jones did just that, but believed he could do more. He became Chy’s best friend and it transformed her life, especially when other athletes began treating Chy like a queen in and out of school.
“We are seeing too many athletes today who take advantage of the system and have a “me first” attitude only to later regret their actions and in too many cases ruin their reputation and crush other’s opinion of them,” according to Detmer.
“ I have had times in my personal life when I have been knocked down and have had to dust myself off and go back to work to be better the next time around, and like the book explains, I had to ‘Do the Work’ with my ‘Eyes Up.’ That is a message every young athlete should read and try to follow."
Detmer said he has played with athletes over the years who have turned down autographs from kids and he’s seen the disappointment and hurt in their eyes when they turn away. He’s also seen many NFL players take time out on Tuesdays to help people, make appearances, visit those in need and do service. He’s seen what it’s done to people and to the athlete.
Detmer remembers when NBA star Charles Barkley told a national TV audience, “I’m not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I raise your kids.”
“I disagree,” said Detmer.
“Some guys proclaimed that they weren't a role model, or that they didn't sign up for that responsibility, but I believe when you sign up to play a sport, that responsibility comes with the commitment to play. In the book (‘Especially for Athletes, Its More than Just a Game’) it is referred to as the ‘Sport Light’ and in ‘Seeking to Bless and Not Impress.’ ”
Detmer has joined Smith in the movement, E4A, and he is pushing its principles coast to coast. One of those mantras is for athletes to live with their eyes up, to look adults in the eyes, to sit on the front row in class, to see people around them that need inclusion.
“Every nine minutes, a young person attempts to take their life,” said Smith. “They need help, they need to find support. Athletes are in a position to use their spotlight to elevate others, to bless them. That is what this is all about.”
In coming months, Smith and Detmer will push the message and have a goal of including other sports stars like Steve Young or Tim Tebow to speak out and echo the message to youths around the country.
“When Ty speaks, people listen,” said Smith.
And it helps that Detmer walks the talk.
He always has.
Editor's note: For more information about Smith and Detmer's challenge to athletes, find them on Facebook or Especiallyforathletes.com.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.