Good guys like Bills' Wilson lost in bad-actor backwash

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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The Pittsburgh Steelers made headlines this offseason by getting rid of Santonio Holmes and getting tough with Ben Roethlisberger, but enough already. A little less Santonio and Big Ben, please, and a little more George Wilson -- and no offense taken if you haven't heard of him.

That can happen with NFL players who do the right thing, and George Wilson, safety for the Buffalo Bills, does -- which is why I would make him one of the first guys on my roster.

George Wilson has always been eager to reach out to the community. (US Presswire)  
George Wilson has always been eager to reach out to the community. (US Presswire)  
There is nothing, it seems, he can't or won't do. He is the wide receiver who agreed to move to safety to further his NFL career ... and did. He's the special-teams standout valued so highly he was named captain. He's the backup who stepped in to start for the injured Donte Whitner last season and produced career numbers. He's the do-gooder wrapped up in so many off-the-field endeavors he was the NFL's 2009 winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award and recipient of the 2008 Presidential Volunteer Service Award. And he was the choice of singer Mary J. Blige for a leading man to star opposite her in a video.

In short, George Wilson is the textbook example of good things happening to good people. So why don't we hear more about him? I mean, he was an undrafted free agent who worked hard to get where he is, while, say, former first-round draft pick Pacman Jones worked hard to play himself out of football before Cincinnati came to the rescue.

Yet let's see a show of hands from those who know who Jones is. Now let's hear from those who heard of Wilson. Someone? Anyone? See what I mean? Life is not fair, though you won't hear George Wilson complain.

"It's definitely tough to see your friends or comrades get in trouble off the field," he said. "But what's more frustrating is that that is what tends be the focus of the media as a whole. There are a lot of guys besides myself who do things in the community, all across this country, yet still the headlines tend to be about when guys get in trouble.

"You have a lot of guys out here [in the NFL] who are helping and affecting lives and changing lives, but that doesn't get brought to light. I don't do it for the recognition, but at the same time when you see that [troublemakers] are the focus week in and week out it can get to you. But it doesn't deter me. I just try to do my part and be understanding because I can't judge anybody. I could easily be in their position."

But that's my point. He never is. George Wilson understands something that, say, Jones or Roethlisberger do not. He subscribes to a moral code that was taught him by his mother and grandparents and that now serves as his daily compass. It keeps him from making the wrong move, it keeps him focused on what he believes is important and, frankly, it keeps him in the NFL.

I take you back to 2007, when then-coach Dick Jauron suggested Wilson switch from wide receiver, a position he played at the University of Arkansas, to safety, a position he hadn't tried since high school. Wilson made the move without hesitating. There was no angst. There was no bellyaching. There was simply a young man trying to do what he could to make himself a professional athlete because ... well, because that's what he was told to do.

Today, Wilson is so accomplished at the position that he started nine games last season and is the mix as a potential starter at a spot where the Bills are deep in talent.

Basically, he is a model for others to emulate, which is exactly what you want in a teammate. Where Pacman Jones has the edge in talent, George Wilson has it in character, accountability and determination, and, sorry, it's a no-brainer which one I take.

"I've been around older people ever since I was a kid," Wilson said. "I have this mentality that if you don't put yourself in a [risky] position, it won't be a problem. You have to sit back and think about the decisions you make and the consequences that come after because they could affect not only you but your team, your family and the lives you're trying to influence.

"Sometimes when you get into trouble and try to talk to people after the fact, you really don't have much merit or credibility. With me, being involved with the community and the kids, I first have to give them that example of living it and showing them how to do it as opposed to just going in there and talking about it.

"I'm blessed to be on this platform, where people young and old look up to me. But with that comes a great responsibility because people try to emulate you and use you as a mentor or influence for their kids. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard so that when you do talk, you do have credibility."

George Wilson has the credibility. He is involved in a zillion community activities, the most notable of which are his "That's Life" speaker series, where he visits schools to talk to kids about the importance of education, and the "George's Jungle" program, where he donates 20 season tickets and meal vouchers to Buffalo Public High School students. He recently founded the S.A.F.E.T.Y. (Saving Adolescents From Everyday Trials of Youth) Foundation, and in April hosted a Life Skills Camping Retreat in Nashville to teach kids the values of leadership, self-esteem and responsibility.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. On the field he was second on the Bills in tackles and interceptions and third in special-teams stops. Now you know why he's someone I wish the NFL could clone.

"I try to be a leader to young guys when they come in [to the Bills]," he said. "That's what I had when I came in. I had guys like Troy Vincent, London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes and Lawyer Milloy, so I had great guys in the locker room to talk to me and show me how it's done on the field and off the field.

"As a player in this league, it's our duty to pass the knowledge and insight on to the next generation of players who come in. It would be very simple for me to have that information, to use it and not share it with other guys. But it's my obligation and my duty to do so."

It's my obligation and duty, then, to ask George Wilson what he would do if he were commissioner for a day. You wish more guys were like him, but they're not. Granted, the overwhelming majority of NFL players stay out of the papers, but it's a handful of miscreants who sully the league's reputation -- with so much offseason news that fans wonder if Roger Goodell's personal-conduct policy is working.

Wilson said it is, but he still has a suggestion for the commissioner.

"I'd try to have more contact with the players and be more visible," he said. "Since I've been in the NFL I think I've met Commissioner Goodell one time -- and that was probably in training camp when he first took office. I know he has a lot on his plate, but if I were commissioner, I would definitely try to be in touch with the players more so they have a better understanding of who you are and what you stand for."

I have no trouble knowing what George Wilson stands for, and it's not because of what he says. Too often we hear from guys trying to make names for themselves by outrageous behavior when we ignore the deeds of model campers like George Wilson. Yeah, I get it. I just don't like it.

"Controversy sells, and I understand it," Wilson said. "It doesn't make me mad. It makes me know that I need to continue to step up my game on the field so that I can build my reputation up the right way. But as long as my family, my friends and my teammates have a clear understanding of what I'm all about, that's all that matters to me.

"I'm not really concerned with trying to be the most popular guy in the NFL or the most recognized guy. I want to be known as someone who came to work each and every day, gave it his all every time he stepped on the field and made a difference in the lives of people I came into contact with. At the end of the day, that's all that really matters to me."

At the end of the day, it's all that really matters, period.

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