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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2004

Old-school Eller a true role model

For every wealthy, out-of-touch athlete who elects to not give back or speak out after signing a fat contract, Carl Eller's NFL Hall of Fame acceptance speech is for you.

Eller, the intimidating defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings, maximized his 15 minutes of fame.

Eller understood that nobody would care about his take on life until he gave people a reason to care - until he had proven himself to be a great football player and a winner.

Next to quarterback Joe Kapp and running back Chuck Foreman, Eller was my favorite player on those memorable Minnesota teams that represented the NFC in four Super Bowls.

Eller was a 16-year veteran who played in six Pro Bowls. He was the straw that stirred the drink of the famous "Purple People Eaters."

He was a member of the all-decade team of the 1970s.

He was an intimidating defensive force.

Carl Eller Carl Eller

The only thing he couldn't do was win a Super Bowl.

Upon retiring from football, Eller faded from the consciousness of all but the most devout NFL fans.

He became a substance abuser who kicked the habit and became a drug counselor. He saw the light.

Eller dedicated his post-NFL life to teaching people to not make the same mistakes he did.

He felt duty-bound to make a difference.

Years later, Eller's Hall of Fame speech comparing the select group of African-American men who play professional sports with a much larger percentage that goes to jail, dies young and never sees the inside of a college classroom was heartfelt, timely and compelling.

Too often, famous athletes remain mute regarding social, political and economic issues out of fear of financial backlash from corporate sponsors and team management.

They choose silence over action - "getting paid" over "making a decent living."

Eller, however, hails from a different generation, a generation that helped pave the way for athletes to earn untold riches.

Eller has zero tolerance for the social passivity of today's athlete.

He's old enough to remember when athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Arthur Ashe spoke out and gave back without reservation.

On Sunday, Eller spoke for those athletes who won't.

But he also realized you can't change people by preaching to them.

He tactfully told the audience that all athletes - college and pro - are role models and have a reputation to uphold.

Don't believe that athletes are role models?

Talk to a group of high school-age kids and watch their eyes brighten at the mention of LeBron James.

Young people relate more positively to James than they relate to doctors, lawyers, politicians, or their own teachers.

Don't take my word for it. Look at the high volume of

No. 23 Cleveland Cavaliers jerseys being worn around Toledo.

How many No. 81 Carl Eller "throwback" jerseys do you see?

Not nearly enough.

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