With all the talk about suspensions for illegal hits and heated postgame confrontations — and there has been a lot of it this week — it’s nice sometimes to be reminded that there is a softer side to football.
So Thursday was a welcome break as about a dozen Georgia football players made an annual trip to St. Mary’s Hospital. They fawned over newborn babies, posed for photos with families and lit up children’s eyes.
It was as welcome a surprise for patients and their families as it was an escape from the daily grind for Georgia athletes, several of whom said the experience put their lives in perspective.
“I think we get caught up in we’re football players, we’re tough, with school and practice,” Georgia linebacker Reuben Faloughi said. “But I think it’s these little things that have really made my experience here at UGA.
“… You have kids in the intensive care unit, and we walk in and it just makes them smile, and that’s a good feeling. I think you just get something that you can’t normally get out of it. You can’t get this playing football. You can’t get this making an A on a test. It’s something you just have to see in peoples’ smiles and just cheering up peoples’ day. What more could you ask for?”
The athletes made their rounds, stopping in to meet some excited and very tired new parents, making a trip to the intensive-care unit and swinging through the Clute Barrow Nelson Children’s Center, where a rambunctious toddler found some comfort in the arms of wide-eyed linebacker Kosta Vavlas. At every stop along their route through St. Mary’s, they were awed by delicate newborns and entertained by the antics of children whose heads barely reached the athletes’ knees.
“I know there are a lot of mixed emotions probably in the rooms — happy, sad, whatever,” Vavlas said. “But I’m just happy to be here and do whatever we can to put a smile on their faces.”
Community service is hardly something new for many Georgia athletes. Coach Mark Richt encourages his players to get involved outside of the team, and some, such as quarterback Aaron Murray, have year-round commitments to various organizations and causes. And Wednesday’s visit embodied the selfless spirit Richt said he hoped to foster when he asked athletes to attend.
“We’re always trying to find ways to help them understand that it’s good to give, that it’s good to give of themselves,” Richt said. “It’s good to give to maybe help some people that can’t help you back in return.”