A True Blessing

On the day after giving thanks for grub, here are five reasons to say thanks for Grubbs - Ravens offensive guard Ben Grubbs, who knows all about what it means to give back

November 28, 2008|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

The world has been pretty chaotic lately.

The financial markets are in turmoil, 401(k)'s have evaporated, the Obamas and the Clintons are suddenly best of friends, teenage vampire literature is all the rage, the auto industry is on the verge of implosion, Guns N' Roses released an album after 15 years and Somali pirates are wreaking havoc on the high seas.

But sports, throughout history, have often been used as a panacea in uncertain times. During the Great Depression, a nation on the verge of economic collapse found itself captivated by a knobby-kneed racehorse named Seabiscuit. Joe Louis' 1938 heavyweight victory over German boxer Max Schmeling was seen as a defeat of Nazism and a blow for racial equality. Babe Ruth might have been the most famous person in the United States, memorably declaring the reason he earned a higher salary than President Herbert Hoover was that "I had a better year than he did."

Sports, however, do not have to change the world to make us feel that they are a worthy distraction from real-life concerns. Sometimes, all we ask is that some of the participants reflect the values we aspire to in our own lives.

It is in that spirit that we offer you: Five Reasons to be Thankful that Ben Grubbs is a Baltimore Raven.

Grubbs, an offensive lineman in the middle of his second season in the NFL, is not the flashiest man donning purple and black each Sunday. You will not see his face in commercials or his jersey on the backs of many parking-lot tailgaters. But in a season when first-year coach John Harbaugh has found surprising success by emphasizing the forgotten concepts of humility and unity, Grubbs might be the perfect man to celebrate.

1. He understands the impact one strong person can have on another's life: : Grubbs, an oak tree of a man who speaks in a slow, almost shy baritone, lost his father to a blood clot when he was just 5 years old. In the tiny town of Eclectic, Ala., it would have been easy for Grubbs and his older brother, Cedric, to wander through their childhoods without direction or discipline, causing trouble in a one-stoplight community where dirt roads outnumber paved ones and where jobs can be scarce in difficult times.

His mother, Deborah, refused to let it happen. She took a job in a middle school cafeteria and worked until her hands were raw and her back was sore, pushing a heavy mop around the room until the floors shined. Grubbs would catch her sometimes, late at night, on her knees with tears streaming down her face, asking God to help her find the strength to raise two young boys alone.

"She sacrificed a lot," Grubbs says. "She could have easily looked for someone else, someone who could provide that companionship she was missing, but she didn't do that. Instead she made sure her two sons were taken care of and worked to put food on the table. She continued to pray. I'd always see her on her knees praying and crying, crying and praying."

It was, in part, for this reason that Grubbs did not hesitate to say yes when Melanie LeGrande, the Ravens' community relations manager, asked him whether he would be interested in getting involved as a spokesman for the Maryland Mentoring Partnership. The program matches up Grubbs with a student from New Town Elementary and has him serve as a mentor.

"I know how important that is, just to have someone be a mentor in your life and just be there when they need someone to talk to," Grubbs says. "One thing that kids need to know is that the circumstances that they're in doesn't have to affect the outcome of their lives. Look at me, growing up in a single-parent home. But I had the right people around me to keep things in perspective."

It certainly doesn't hurt that he graduated from Auburn University with a degree in public administration and a minor in business.

Stop by Grubbs' house and you're more likely to catch him watching CNN than you are ESPN.

"I was just reading that the graduation rate in Baltimore area is about 85 percent, but in the city it's like 35 percent," Grubbs says. "That's sad. I know if these kids had someone they could look up to, it can make an impact on their lives. If I can change one person's life, then I think I've done my job."

2. Grubbs' best friend on the Ravens? Fellow lineman Marshal Yanda: : We've heard a lot this year about the way we view race in this country and how it affects the way we vote, the way we make friends and the way we pray.

Sports, though, come up far less frequently in those discussions, in part because sports are usually well ahead of the curve when it comes to social progress. Take Grubbs' friendship with Yanda. A white guy from Anamosa, Iowa (population 5,500), and a black man from Eclectic, Ala. (population 1,000), are not only the young building blocks of the Ravens' future running game (though Yanda is out for the year with torn knee ligaments), but they are also close friends.

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