Niagara Gazette — Being an elected official can be a pain in the butt a lot of the time, but it has its perks. Jim Kelly was already a “hero” of mine from his Bills glory days when I had the honor to meet him several times as mayor of Niagara Falls. As I’ve watched his story unfold, and learned more and more about his challenging but inspiring life after football, it occurred to me that his example had changed my whole concept of what being a “hero” is really all about.
We toss that term about far too casually, pasting the label on entertainers, politicians and — yes — athletes that would probably be described more accurately as “likeable celebrities.” I didn’t think it was possible to have much more admiration for someone than I had for Jim Kelly the football player. I took my football seriously, and after that fourth Superbowl loss, I was probably a candidate for some kind of psychiatric treatment — no joke. That’s what a big deal this was for me.
But as I look back now at the big picture of Jim’s life — all the good he has done for so many people, and all the challenges he has bravely faced since leaving football — it strikes me that the sports piece is really only a minor part of what makes him a true “hero.” What’s really more important is that the same virtues that made him a great football player also make him a great community leader, philanthropist, teacher, husband and father, and a great role model. What Jim Kelly has become in the hearts and minds of Western New Yorkers (and Bills fans everywhere) may have roots in football, but the larger meaning of his life transcends any mere sport.
Courage in the face of adversity. Unwillingness to admit defeat in the face of overwhelming odds. Optimism in the face of despair. Always looking out for everyone else, and putting yourself and your troubles last in line. These are great principles in sports, but they’re even more important in life in general. Kelly reminds us that you don’t have to be talented or famous to be a “hero” — just determined to do your best to do the right thing every day, no matter what the odds.