- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Tim Johnson has seen a lot of phoniness disguised as charitable work among athletes these days. He has seen many a player talk the talk, but when it came time to walk the walk, they walked away, with little to show for their good works except another addition to their image resume.
That's why the former Washington Redskins defensive tackle was on hand yesterday at Redskin Park to witness Darrell Green's official retirement announcement. The 41-year-old Green has walked the good walk for 19 years in a Redskins uniform, and he is not stopping now. Yesterday, he made it clear that he intends to remain a forceful presence in Washington after he leaves football at the end of this season with his work for the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation.
"If you pull back the curtain, you see a lot of players who don't have a strong level of commitment to their community work or foundation," said Johnson, who has remained committed to community work and was heavily involved in charitable activities during his six years here, from 1990 through 1995. "That's why it's easier for them to move from one team to another. Their commitment is not very deep. The true test is longevity in a community."
That, boys and girls, may be the key to any chance of a player staying with one team for any particular length of time, or in Green's case, his entire 19-year career. It's not what they do on the field that may dictate that decision, it's their off-the-field activities that could determine if a player will stay in one place.
We have three dinosaurs leaving the sports world all at once two of them in baseball, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, and now Green, who said when he steps off the field for the final Redskins game this year whenever that is "you will have seen me play my last professional football game."
They are dinosaurs because all have played their entire careers with the same teams Gwynn with the Padres, Ripken with the Orioles, and Green with the Redskins. And if there is one common thread between all three of these dinosaurs, it is this: All have been deeply involved in community activities and affairs, and all hope to keep that commitment up, or, in Green's case, even increase it, after they leave their sports.
That's not so easy, because after they are gone from the game, an athlete needs much more than the memories he or she has left on the playing field to keep the money coming in for their community work. And they need more than simply their good name or reputation.
It takes years and years of commitment in a community to build up the kind of network needed to sustain the sort of ambitious project that Green will take on when he is done playing. He started the foundation in 1988, and since then has been working to build something permanent to help underprivileged young children build a life for themselves, primarily through the Darrell Green Youth Life Learning Center. Green best described the mission of the foundation when he said, "We teach young people the right way to live."
That takes money, and that money is harder to come by when a player leaves the game, simply because he is not in the public eye anymore, week after week. It is football that gave Green the chance to do good works, and Green recognized that yesterday, crediting Johnson, his former teammate, for showing him the way. "Football has been great," he said. "But I'm so glad that years ago, I learned from people like my pastor and great friends like Tim Johnson that this is just a job, a means to an end."
But after the cheering has ended, the tough work begins. The further away the player is removed from his playing days, the further he slips from the public consciousness. But this is a town where people have always responded to athletes who gave them something to cheer about on the field, and showed their loyalty away from it. Perhaps no Redskin fits that mold better than Green, a future Hall of Fame cornerback who was as responsible as any player there was for the franchise's last two Super Bowl championships.
"I don't think we had anyone who had as much impact on winning as Darrell Green," said former Redskins coach Richie Petitbon, who coached Green when he was in charge of the defense during the Joe Gibbs era. "To be able to take away the other team's best receiver with just one guy, and that's what Darrell did, gave us an edge."
In return for those glory days, Green is asking that people respond to his continued work off the field with the foundation. "You say you love the little guy," the 5-foot-8 Green said yesterday. "Then help the little guy help the young people."
The "little guy" has been all heart, both on and off the playing field. Now he is hoping he has reached into a community's heart long enough and deep enough to accomplish far more than he did in football. "This is what is in my heart," he said.


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