Let’s Hear it for the Panthers!

So yes, the Carolina Panthers may have disappointed hometown fans last Saturday in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, but they win for recognizing that the youngest fans (or fans-to-be) matter. Over the holidays, a 12-year-old boy wrote all 32 NFL team CEOs, president or owner a letter stating: “My family and I love football. We play fantasy football and watch NFL games every weekend. My parents are St. Louis Ram’s fans. My brother is a Kansas City Chiefs fan. I don’t have a team to cheer for yet. I am ready to pick an NFL team to cheer on for a lifetime!” The only team to respond was the Carolina Panthers Jerry Richardson.

The idea to write the letters spawned while Cade Pope, who lives in Okalahoma, was home from sick the week before Christmas. In looking for something to do to fill the time while home sick, he decided to write these letters. All the letters went out first of January, and last week, Cade came home to a package from the Carolina Panthers that included a handwritten letter from Richardson and a Panthers helmet signed by the team. According to news reports, the first line of Richardson’s letter read: “We would be honored if our Carolina Panthers became your team. We would make you proud by the classy way we would represent you.”

Class-act move Mr. Richardson! Kids and sports go hand-in-hand, and in the wake of some really bad examples out there in the professional sports world, it’s great to hear news like this. I know a lot of kids, ranging in age from 5 (my son) to 8 who have a real interest in football. Much of it is fueled by their father’s love of the game and Sundays spent watching games, but it’s even better when acts of kindness off the field are showcased.

To me, Richardson’s response to Cade shows that big sports aren’t just big stadiums and jumbotrons that showcase extremely well-paid (IMO) athletes, but that there are kind, real people behind it all. And there are plenty of Panthers players that rank in that same category of big-hearted guys, such as Greg Olsen and DeAngelo Williams, giving back through their foundations to support cause near and dear to their hearts and related to the love of their families.

So the Panthers may not be marching to the Super Bowl, but moves like Richardson’s makes them champs in a different way.