Character issue

Published 6:09 pm Monday, August 11, 2008

Todd Kalis had seen enough of baseball players spitting on umpires, basketball players fighting with fans and football players getting arrested. He was tired of “sportsmen doing unsportsmanlike things.”

As a NFL offensive lineman from 1988-1995, Kalis knew there were plenty of good athletes that were also good people. As a father, Kalis wanted to make sure his 14-year-old son knew there were plenty of professional athletes that could be seen as role models.

To help remedy what they see as an erosion of character in our society at large, Kalis and Clanton businessman Steve Below began the Foundations of Character Initiative, an effort that will begin with Kalis visiting Chilton County High School on Sept. 18.

“There’s been a breakdown of society at multiple levels, and we want to try to turn the tide,” Below said. “The older you get, the more cognizant you get of, ‘I need to make a difference; I need to help make people better.’”

Kalis is originally from Stillwater, Minn., played with the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals and now resides in Pittsburgh.

Below and Kalis, who met as business acquaintances, became fast friends in a short period of time and realized they shared a desire to influence children’s and young adults’ lives in a positive way. A focus was placed on athletes because they are often the leaders of their social groups, Below said.

The pair’s first project was a book along the lines of the initiative. Kalis is the vice-chairman of the National Football League Alumni Board of Directors, a position that allowed him to contact 58 former NFL players, including 41 Hall of Fame members. What resulted was a unique study of the motivations behind some of the most successful careers in the history of the sport. Kalis, who did most of the interviews, said most of the former players could point to a specific event in their adolescence that changed the course of their lives for the good.

The initiative could have that effect for a future Hall-of-Famer. At the least, the initiative could counter the effect of the bad news so prevalent on TV and the Internet.

“You get disappointed when you see someone who doesn’t understand the effect they can have, not just on the average fan but on adolescent fans,” said Kalis, who’s been in the locker rooms and knows there’s more good than bad. “Those experiences are something I want to pass on to parents and the kids themselves,” he said.

Kalis will do that from 6-8 p.m. on Sept. 18. The event will be a fundraiser for CCHS athletics. The NFL Alumni group is behind the initiative, and similar events are planned for Cullman, Minnesota and Phoenix. For more information on the event, call Below at 755-7577.

“We’re using athletics as our springboard, really, to the bigger issue of character,” Below said.