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Drew Brees

When Everyone is Watching…
They embrace the idea of being a role model!

Over my years at Sports Illustrated, one of my favorite moments each week was getting a look at the images that were chosen for the cover of the magazine. My favorite cover of all time was published last Feb. 15, the week after the Super Bowl. On it is pictured New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees, fresh off his team’s big win, holding his 1-year-old son Baylen above his head as confetti drizzles down around them.

That victory, which lifted a franchise and a city, earned Brees many accolades, including SI’s Sportsman of The Year award just last month. The story about Brees reminds us what is so GREAT about sports and those who play them. Brees and his Saints lost in the first round of the playoffs this year, but his place as one of the true greats in sports is secure.

Brees was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2001, then signed with the Saints in 2006, who were coming off a 3-13 season-no great morale booster for a city trying to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Brees and his wife, Brittany, embraced their new city and immediately jumped into the recovery efforts, starting programs for fighting cancer, illiteracy and poverty. His first season in the Big Easy, Brees led the league in passing yards and led his team to the NFC South division title and a 10-6 record overall. He was also the recipient of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for the work of the Brees Dream Foundation.

values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do. -Elvis PresleyThe Saints’ tremendous turnaround in only a few years has thrust Brees into the media limelight. Brees knows that light shines on him at all times…and he’s fine withthat. When I spoke with Brees last summer, he was solid on that point. “I enjoy the idea that I am a role model because I enjoy the responsibility that comes with it,” he told me. “The reason I enjoy it, though, is because I don’t feel like I have to act any differently. I live the life I believe I am supposed to.”

In SI’s Sportsman piece, Brees said he “loves” this addition to his job description: “Kids hang on your every word and action. You have an influence on their lives. It comes pretty naturally to me. I mean, I don’t avoid using drugs because kids are watching me. I avoid doing drugs because it’s not a good thing to use drugs.”

brees3But he doesn’t just choose to be a role model for the kids who might be watching him on TV or in his community; he also is committed to living a life that his own children will want to emulate. In his book Coming Back Stronger, which was released in July of 2010, he wrote about his dedication to his wife and the family they planned: “[W]hen I put the ring on Brittany’s finger, I said, ‘For better or for worse, till death do us part.’ Period. No matter how bad it could possibly get, I am committed. It’s not about happiness. It’s not about a feeling. I committed myself to her for the rest of my life, and I promise never to walk away.”

Tips from the Great Ones

As you make and work to keep your New Year’s resolutions, don’t just focus on career advancement or fitness goals. Are you also considering your character? What can you do over the next 12 months to make your life worth imitating?

Apply this Characteristic: Identify an area of your life where you feel your talents, position, or insight can inspire someone else and add that to your list of New Year's resolutions for 2011. Make a list of what you believe are the strongest points of your character (honesty, loyalty, dependability), and two where you’d like to improve. Then consider a specific opportunity in your professional or personal life where you can share them. The more detailed you are, the easier it will be to recognize where you, personally, can make a difference. Brees and his wife believe that they were sent to New Orleans for a reason-to connect with the community and help bring back some hope and cheer. Might there be a greater reason why you are where you are today? Who might be watching you . . . and what might they be seeing?

Embrace the opportunities in your life to be a role model. Part of true Greatness is a willingness to share it through example!

Do you know a story of true Greatness from your community? I’d love to hear it! Please write to to share it.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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