- Written by Todd Moning
Want a break from the brawls, showboating players and drug-related allegations infesting sports these days?
Visit the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame on the campus of Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. This Hall of Fame, which offers free admission, gives new meaning to the phrase "good athlete."
All that's good in sport
"All the negative things get in the newspaper, but when athletes do good things in their community, you hardly read about them," said Myron Finkbeiner, who founded the Humanitarian Hall of Fame in 1994.
Whether it's establishing scholarships for youth, helping war victims or starting mentoring programs, the athletes enshrined in this Hall have used their athletic success to help others.
The Hall lists inductees' athletic accomplishments and displays memorabilia, but the emphasis is on humanitarian contributions.
"Many pro athletes start scholarships or give money to local charities," Finkbeiner said. "But if you look closely, most do so because their agents mandate this action. Not so with our inductees. For them, helping others is a priority."
The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame is for athletes who go beyond merely writing checks to charities, Finkbeiner said. It's for athletes who are compassionate and committed to helping their communities. It's for athletes who've earned the "role model" label and accept it ….
Like five-time Olympic gold medalist speed skater Bonnie Blair, who helped raise funds with Olympic Aid-Atlanta to help war victims all around the world. She also founded the Bonnie Blair Charitable Gift Fund, which raises money for charities such as the American Brain Tumor Association.
Like golfer Juan "Chi Chi" Rodriguez, who established the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation in Clearwater, Fla. It assists inner-city youths by improving their self-esteem, character, work ethic, social adjustment and academic performance.
Like retired pro basketball player Kevin Johnson ("KJ"), who founded St. Hope (Help Our People Excel) Academy in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif. St. Hope provides educational, cultural and spiritual guidance to Sacramento's youth.
"A lot of athletes lend their names to charitable causes, and that's great," Finkbeiner said. "But seldom does an athlete pour his soul into communities as KJ has. His influence if felt all through city … it shows what one man can do if his priorities are in the right place."
The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame inducts three athletes each year. The 2004 inductees are Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
Previous inductees: Dale Murphy, Arthur Ashe, Rafer Johnson, Pat McCormick, Kip Keino, Julius Erving, Roberto Clemente, Mel Blount, Billy Mills, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, David Robinson, Pelé, Tom Landry, Wilma Rudolph, Tony Gwynn, Mary Lou Retton, Kirby Puckett, Nate "Tiny Archibald, A.C. Green, speed skater Johann Olav Koss, Andrea Jaeger, Steve Young and the Harlem Globetrotters.
"Each one of these people has a special story to tell," Finkbeiner said. "When we select our inductees, we pick them because they have a real human interest story behind the focus point in their lives."
To be enshrined, athletes must meet three requirements: They must be world-class in ability, they must have a record of humanitarian efforts, and they must be role models.
The selection committee consists of athletes who represent 23 different sports, Finkbeiner said. "Each year we start with 20 to 25 candidates. Many are nominated by those who are aware of their humanitarian efforts. We do the research and maintain files on all of the candidates. Then we send ballots out to the committee to determine the top three."
The Hall's primary focus is to honor three new inductees annually, but it presents several other awards, as well. For example, the Hall partners with the Heisman Memorial Trophy Foundation to present an annual "Tradition of Excellence Award" to a Heisman winner who meets the Hall's criteria. Recipients include Steve Owens, Jim Plunkett, Archie Griffin and Roger Staubach. An authentic Heisman Trophy is displayed in the Hall.
The "Nell and John Wooden Humanitarian Lifetime Coaching Achievement Award" honors a college basketball coach and spouse for humanitarian achievements. And the annual "Pro Team Community Award" recognizes professional sports organizations for their contributions to their respective communities.
One day, Finkbeiner hopes to move the Hall to a larger building with high-tech exhibits that give guests a chance to step into the "shoes" of inductees.
"What we have now is basically stories of each inductee, and they're very well told, but our dream is to have a facility that is totally interactive. The theme will be, 'What it takes to be a champion' — in school, in sports, in the community — so the new facility will have the potential to offer life-changing experiences."
The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame moved from a downtown location to the Boise State University campus, 1910 University Drive, in June 2004. The museum is at the south end of the football stadium, in the Allen Noble Hall of Fame building. It occupies two rooms in a 4,000-square-foot building. Self-guided tours take about an hour.
The Hall is open year round Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. Admission is free.
Metered parking for cars is available in front of the building. Look for free street parking for motorhomes on University Drive, less than a block away from the museum. That's where RVs park and tailgate for Boise State football games.
More information: www.sportshumanitarian.com