By Julie Buehler

Sports fans all know the name Ronnie Lott. It’s synonymous with punishing hits, fierce pursuit of opponents; fundamentally sound tackling and a little pinkie.

Lott is the Hall of Fame safety for the San Francisco 49ers and owns 4 Super Bowl rings from his tenure with the Niners.

He’s a legend in the game and largely credited with inspiring a generation of football players who look to make highlight-reel tackles.


But he’s also a very real, very cool guy and I get the opportunity to catch up with him every year as a voter on the college football trophy bearing his name, the Lott IMPACT Trophy.

The IMPACT Trophy stands for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity and as a voter, I’m instructed to weigh performance and character equally. This year, Eric Kendricks, UCLA’s star linebacker won the Lott Trophy.

Each summer, as the college football season gets under way, as a voter, I get the Lott Trophy Watch list, 42 (Lott’s number at USC and in NFL) of college football’s best defensive players, that ALSO exhibit superior character, academic success, community involvement and of course, incredible talent on the field.

We’re instructed not only to watch these young men each Saturday, but also keep an eye on them through the press clippings, listen for stories from local media about how the players interact in the community, find stories of them supporting charities, and doing the things we all hope our sports stars and public figures do with their limited spare time: use their platform to help others.

Funny thing, it’s SO much easier to find news about athletes doing wrong than the stories of athletes doing right.

The sports world is under heavy scrutiny right now.

And it’s not just the NFL. It’s each league, at the collegiate and professional level, as a SMALL FEW number of entitled athletes run amok and create a disproportionate amount of bad press for the vast majority of amateur and professional athletes.

Whether we discuss the domestic violence issue in the NFL, NBA or NHL where players have been suspended for assaulting women or their children, or whether we discuss the gut-churning cases at the college level, like the dismissal of Oklahoma State receiver Tyreek Hill, an All-Big-12 talent who assaulted his pregnant girlfriend or the sexual assault investigation that STILL continues into 2013 Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston, we know those stories well as they collide in the headlines and require us as sports fans to adjust our notion of who these athletes are.

But in reality, those very high-profile stories are tilting the perception for the many, many, thousands actually, of athletes that are earning an education or living thanks to their superior athleticism and seek to give back.

I spoke with David Helton, a Duke linebacker, Campbell Award winner (the Academic Heisman) and Lott Trophy finalist and he told me he considers those few athletes who can’t handle their social responsibility to be decent members of their community are a personal affront to him.

And I agree.

In my decade-plus career of sports journalism, I’ve encountered numerous professional and collegiate athletes. Some big names like Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Joe Torre, Manti Teo, JJ Watt, and many, many more, and some not-so-nationally-known names like Jacob Hester, Mark Herzlich, Brian Banks, Shaine Boyle, Thomas DeMarco, James Dockery and Greg Latta, and many, many more, and the ONE common denominator among all the athletes I’ve ever met: the profound ability to distract themselves from disappointment with their vision of victory.

That’s it. There’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter athlete.

In my decade-plus career, I have but a handful of stories of athletes, coaches or administrators who were less than kind and respectful.

I have COUNTLESS stories of athletes who were awesome, hilarious, gracious, inviting, thoughtful and welcoming. But I’ll give you one guess which kind of stories people want to hear first when they find out what I do for a living.

We all need to ask ourselves why that is.

The Lott IMPACT Trophy, in it’s 11th year, represents a shift in culture and conversation where we celebrate those who go above and beyond to pursue their vision of victory and help others do the same.

Julie Buehler hosts the Coachella Valley’s most popular sports talk radio show, “Buehler’s Day Off” every day from 3-6 on 1010 KXPS, the valley’s all sports station. She can also be seen every morning between 6-7am on KMIR sharing the coolest stories in sports. She’s an avid gym rat, slightly sarcastic and more likely to recite Steve Young’s career passing stats than American Idol winners. Tune in M-F 3-6 pst at or watch “Buehler’s Day Off” on Ustream and for her sports reports.