A Tale of Two Football Players

There is always more than one way to make a difference in people’s lives.

Some people donate to charities, some protest or march, some write newspaper columns.

And some people choose more controversial ways.

Colin Kaepernick, back-up quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has garnered massive attention in recent weeks due to his refusal to stand for the national anthem as a protest to the way people of color are treated in America.

By latest account, his jersey ranks near the top in all NFL sales.  Not all people buying his jersey are wearing it; some are burning it.

While his story has lit up headlines, talk shows, and social media—even President Obama chimed in that Kaepernick has a constitutional right to his silent protest—another story about a different football player has received less attention.

Travis Rudolph, wide receiver for Florida State University, along with a handful of his teammates, visited Montford Middle School in Tallahassee on Aug. 30 while the students ate lunch.  Rudolph picked up a couple of slices of pizza and sat next to a sixth grader who was eating by himself.  It turns out that 11-year-old Bo Paske has autism and, because of that, often eats alone.

A photo was taken of the encounter.  Upon viewing it, Leah Paske, Bo’s mother, posted on her Facebook account that “this is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes.”

“I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say it will not soon be forgotten.”

When all the parties appeared on “Fox and Friends,” Bo retold the moment when Rudolph asked him, “‘Hey, can I sit down with you?’  And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ and just like that we were eating lunch together.  And he even signed my lunchbox.”

Rudolph said, “We clicked.”

When watching the interview, it is curious how uncomfortable Rudolph appears, as if he really does not want all this attention for doing something that to him must have been second nature. He had no idea a photo would be taken and that it would go viral.  He did not seek publicity.

Compare that to Kaepernick’s endless stream of tweets about his protest.

Performing acts of kindness isn’t a box that is checked off on a form of doing one’s duty as a human being.  It has to come from within one’s soul.

Rudolph told ESPN, “I feel like maybe I can change someone’s life or I can make someone a better person or make someone want to be great or be like me, or even better.”

One major distinction between these two football players is the avenue they chose to make a difference. Kaepernick’s choice—a football game on national television.  Rudolph’s choice—a lunch table with a solitary boy.

What adds a deeper meaning to this relationship is that Rudolph, African-American, and Bo, Caucasian, are building a bridge between the races, one relationship at a time.  The only bridge Kaepernick is building is pledging to donate $1 million along with proceeds from his jersey sales to communities dealing with racial injustice, but so far no action has happened.

Bo summed up his feelings about Rudolph eating lunch with him: “It was kind of like me sitting on a rainbow.”

Meanwhile, Kaepernick is sitting on a bench.