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RECOGNIZING THOSE WHO GIVE SPORTS A GOOD NAME

Granted that sports is overloaded with thugs, double dealers and assorted knaves, but there are still plenty of good people involved and Christmas Day is a fine time to recognize some of them.

Here are 10 who come quickly to mind:

Jill Kelly: I never met the lady, but I have strong admiration for her. Her husband, Jim, is the flag bearer for their foundation to combat Krabbe's Disease, the rare genetic disorder than afflicts their son. But because of his broadcasting chores, Jim has chances to escape the burden and to benefit from the solace he gets from colleagues and fans.

Mrs. Kelly, like so many wives of sports celebrities, lives in the background. In her case, living in the background means around-the-clock care for their afflicted son, Hunter; the cradling, massaging and other efforts to provide him with whatever comfort she can. That is beside the normal care she gives to their young daughter, Erin. There's not much glamour involved. She deserves a hopeful Christmas.

Pat LaFontaine: His time in Buffalo was too short and the end was not by his choice, but while he was here he made a community impact like few professional athletes who ever performed here. He is one of the most genuine athletes ever.

Jeff Manto: His time in Buffalo was even shorter, but the Bisons would not have made their way to the American Association championship without his bat and his leadership. Wherever he has played, Manto taught his teammates what the term "professionalism" actually means. Along the way, he also took his place as a contributing member of the community.

Fuzzy Zoeller: Yes, he made one of the dumb remarks of the year after the Masters when he tried to joke about Tiger Woods. He paid dearly when Kmart dropped him as a sponsor, costing him a fortune. Some labeled him a racist, which will stain him forever.

The truth is, he is a good man, one of the most decent people in sports. Ask the people at Children's Hospital, with whom he has worked in their annual fund-raising golf day.

Jeff Gordon: One of the most popular sports figures in America, maybe the world, despite breaking into the auto racing spotlight just a few years ago. Even considering that race car drivers are usually the salt-of-the-earth types, few in any sport handle fame much better.

Grant Hill: We know that Michael Jordan is a good role model, but it's Hill's generation of NBA players which is giving the league a bad name. It needs some balance of gentlemanly deportment and Hill is one of the chief examples. It comes to him naturally. He was raised that way.

Jeff Fisher: In a workplace full of whiners, snarlers, blow-tops and paranoiacs, Fisher is a refreshing change. The Tennessee Oilers' head coach had to deal with situations that would have driven most NFL coaches into a straitjacket.

He spent a couple of lame-duck seasons in hostile Houston; was greeted by apathy in Nashville, where the Oilers won't play until 1998 at the earliest; then had to fly to Memphis every "home" weekend to be greeted by apathy and hostility. Through it all, he not only kept his young team's progress steady but maintained his civility.

Reggie White: He stood up for what is right. The great Green Bay defender is nearing the end of his career, which makes his rich Nike endorsement vulnerable. Nevertheless, he criticized Nike's use of cheap foreign labor.

Dan Rooney: The Steelers' owner needs a new football stadium in Pittsburgh and the voters turned him down. Like most of his NFL colleagues he could have threatened to move unless he got what he wanted. Instead he said moving would be unthinkable. That makes him a sucker in the view of some, in this perspective a good man.

Evander Holyfield: In the vermin-infested world of boxing, it's difficult to find someone admirable. Think of the recent heavyweight champions: The erratic Riddick Bowe, the slothful Buster Douglas; Mike Tyson, convicted rapist and Hannibal Lecter wanna-be. Holyfield brings a foreign substance to boxing: Decency.

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