The Fourth of July is always a good time to reflect on our American heritage, which has been made possible by heroic individuals like George Washington, John Adams, Sergeant York, John McCain, and Jeremiah Denton. Those are only a few names from a long list. Because of the contributions of the aforementioned and others, citizens like us can enjoy countless pleasurable experiences in life. One is college football. As the College Football Professor, I thought I would reflect on the positive contributions of players who have been role models.
During my teen years, one of the athletes who gave me great inspiration was Gilbert Leroy “Buddy” Dial, an All-American football player at Rice University. His dynamic ability to catch passes helped put him into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1958, he joined the likes of LSU’s Billy Cannon, Auburn’s Zeke Smith, and Army’s Pete Dawkins (Heisman Trophy winner and great American) as consensus All-Americans. Dial was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round of the 1959 NFL Draft, but he was cut. He then signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was All-Pro three times. After six seasons, he went home to Texas to finish his NFL career. He played three years with the Dallas Cowboys.
Dial was an inspiration to me because of his character, faith and the way he excelled as a player. He was my hero, a role-model, someone I desired to emulate. I spent endless hours practicing catching passes like him, learning his stiff-arm technique and running Dial-like precision patterns. Even though I worked hard to be a prolific wide receiver like Buddy Dial, it never happened because of my lack of athletic ability. What did bring lifelong impact from my role model was the encouragement and inspiration he demonstrated with his character, commitment and faith. The lessons I learned from Dial were invaluable in helping me discover the fullness of a life of faith. While my athletic ability was not on the level of a Buddy Dial, my walk of faith did not depend on my ability. Yes, I worked hard to be disciplined in my life and it helped greatly. Yes, the lessons I learned from Dial helped greatly. But those things alone did not make me.
A role model or hero does not make us what we ought to be, but they help us to see what we can be. Buddy Dial’s faith in God helped trigger in me an understanding that God’s love for me is so great that He gave His Son for me and His grace enables me to be what He intended me to be.
It is well documented that Buddy Dial had a difficult time in the later years of his life. Because of severe injuries during his NFL career, he had significant health problems brought on by his abuse of painkilling drugs. He did receive treatment for these pain-killers in the late 1980s, but by then his health had taken a drastic toll. A role model is not infallible. We are helped and encouraged by those who live life with purpose and character like Tim Tebow, Jay Barker, A. C. Green, Jonathan Byrd and Barrett Jones. But we know that all of us are fallible. A role model is one who has found direction, purpose and resource for living life and they help others discover meaning and direction in their life.