I’m not a New York Jets fan. Sure, I love their confidence, but you have to back it up on the field… something they have rarely done when it counts. That kind of speaks for majority of athletes in sports today. So many athletes talk a big game, on and off the field, but few actually deliver.
In particular, I think this is more apparent off the field. So many celebrities and athletes talk of giving back to the community, how important the fans are and how much of a privilege it is to get paid to play a game. However, when an opportunity arrives to give back or show appreciation… very few actually come through without the urging of the PR Director or a mandatory team PR stunt.
Mark Sanchez has officially set himself apart from that class and it’s a story worth repeating.
Aiden Binkley, 11, Binkley was suffering from a rare form of cancer, and he had only two wishes — he wanted his two brothers to stay healthy and he wanted to meet Sanchez. Sounds like a common story from the Make A Wish Foundation, right? The only difference is that after the visit and wish granted, Sanchez continued the relationship.
Surprise visits to his home while he was sleeping…only to watch his eyes light up when he awoke. A call to Aiden following a big win in Pittsburgh. Sanchez then took that game ball from that win and sent to Aiden to lift his spirits. Sanchez would often send text messages to Aiden, but not the typical “how ya feeling” messages. He always posed a question, trying to initiate a conversation.
We’re talking about a star New York athlete making a difference in an 11-year-olds life. The little things. Suffering in a way that many of us will never know, Sanchez gave this little boy something to look forward to every-single-day.
“All I hear from someone is, ‘There’s a youngster who’s terminally ill with cancer and all he wants to do is meet you,’” Sanchez said. “It changes your whole world. It stops everything. You get a chance to step back. It’s really close to my heart. … He’s the best. I love him.”
Atlas Foundation board member, Keith Sullivan, was struck by Sanchez’s sincerity. In that initial meeting, Sanchez and Aiden exchanged cell phone numbers, with Sanchez telling the boy, “I’ll shoot you a text later. We’ll talk.” And Sullivan hoped it wasn’t just lip service, a millionaire athlete trying to appease a starstruck kid.
“Aiden had a smile on his face for the last three weeks of his life,” Sullivan said.
Yes, the last three weeks of his life. Little Aiden Binkley lost his battle with cancer last Thursday.
“He brought me so much inspiration. … It’s hard to talk about him,” Sanchez said. “He meant the world to me. I felt like I’ve known him forever. … I saw his personality. I saw his competitive spirit. I saw him fighting every day.
“I’m complaining about a shoulder. Are you kidding me? … I think he was 11 years old, and he has cancer eating away at his body,” Sanchez continued. “This kid is fighting every day.
He’s smiling every time I talk to him. I visited him at his home. I mean, he has to get carried up the stairs because he’s so weak and all he wants to talk about is LT (LaDanian Tomlinson) and Darrelle Revis and Rex Ryan and me. It kills you, just thinking about it. I love him to death.”
It’s rare that you get to hear of a tragic story that still provides the “feel-good” aspect. For as much as fans and media like to rip athletes and celebrities… Mark Sanchez paved his own path and deserves as much praise for this as he would if he brought a Super Bowl trophy to the Jets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. But I urge you to think twice before ripping this guy, booing him or heckling him when he misses a target, throws a pick or coughs up the ball. It’s bigger than football. Sanchez gets it.