With the holiday season upon us, we started thinking: If Santa can make a list, why can’t Athlon? So we asked dozens of athletes, agents, coaches, journalists and other experts to identify the nicest athletes in sports today. Here’s our roster:
Chris Paul—Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul is more than just the player who turned the L.A. Clippers from punchline to powerhouse. Since being drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in 2005, Paul has tried to make everything around him better. Exhibit A: Paul celebrated turning pro by refurbishing a basketball court in his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. It was renamed for Nathaniel Jones, Paul’s late grandfather and ongoing inspiration. “He had the first African-American-owned service station in North Carolina,” Paul says. “People would say, ‘Mr. Jones, I don’t have the money. Can I still get some gas?’ And he would take care of them.”
Paul has continued this family tradition of good works. The All-Star known for on-court fierceness is renowned for off-court kindness. He regularly helps rookies adjust to NBA life and routinely attends the school plays and games of teammates’ kids. But his real focus is on the less fortunate. Example: Upon arriving in L.A., Paul promptly participated in a Feed the Children event that helped hundreds of local families, and he continues to make a difference in Southern California — focusing especially on kids health and education through his CP3 Foundation. But his heart remains in New Orleans, where in 2010 he helped launch an after-school program at KIPP Central City Primary School.
“He is so genuine about his commitment to the city of New Orleans,” says KIPP’s Korbin Johnson. “Even now that he’s gone.” Indeed, Paul’s CP3 AfterSchool Zone, which provides an enriching afternoon environment for kids in The Big Easy, is just one example of his ongoing efforts to stay involved in that city’s rebuilding. “I’m always gonna be there,” Paul says about New Orleans. “I love that city. I always will.”
Steven Jackson—St. Louis Rams
Nice guy cred: Steven Jackson Foundation provides various initiatives of community service. Received Key to the City of his hometown Las Vegas in 2007 for community work. Official spokesperson for NFL Play 60, which battles childhood obesity.
Larry Fitzgerald—Arizona Cardinals
Nice Guy cred: First Down Fund provides resources to
various organizations nationwide. Visits the troops in the Middle East. Charitable trips to Africa.
Torii Hunter—Detroit Tigers
Nice guy cred: Torii Hunter Project Education initiative helps youths across the country. Hunter’s Hundred provided scholarships for 1,000 students between 2009-12. Recipient of 2004 Carl R. Pohlad Award, 2007 Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, 2009 Branch Rickey Award.
Troy Polamalu—Pittsburgh Steelers
Nice guy cred: The Troy and Theodora Polamalu Foundation,
Operation Once in a Lifetime, VA Hospital (Pittsburgh), various military-focused charities.
Teemu Selanne—Anaheim Ducks
Nice guy cred: Teemu Selanne Youth Sports Foundation. Recipient of 2007 Bill Masterston Memorial Trophy (honoring perseverance and sportsmanship).
CC Sabathia—New York Yankees
Nice guy cred: PitCCh In Foundation. Recipient of 2010 Bart Giamatti Award for compassion and community service. $100 contribution per strikeout towards “Strikeouts for Troops.”
Pau Gasol—Los Angeles Lakers
Nice guy cred: Ambassador for Spain’s UNICEF committee. Partnership with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Recipient of 2012 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.
Drew Brees —New Orleans Saints
Nice guy cred: The Brees Dream Foundation. Worked with Habitat for Humanity and Childrens Hospital in New Orleans. Part of USO Missions to Afghanistan, Kuwait and Okinawa.
Hannah Teter—Two-time Olympic medalist snowboarder
Nice girl cred: Proceeds from maple syrup from her family farm help the needy in Kenya. Supports Boarding for Breast Cancer, Children International, Doctors Without Borders, PETA. 2006 USOC Sportswoman of the Year.
Phil Mickelson—PGA Tour golfer
Nice Guy Cred: Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation, Birdies for the Brave, Special Operations Warrior Operation, Homes for Our Troops.
Jeff Gordon—NASCAR driver
Nice Guy Cred: Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation. It supports children battling cancer by funding programs that improve patients’ quality of life, treatment programs that increase survival rates and pediatric medical research dedicated to finding a cure. A first of its kind in NASCAR, AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger serves as Gordon’s primary sponsor while working to battle senior hunger.
Barrett Jones—Center, Alabama
Nice guy cred: Named to the All-State AFCA Good Works Team (and received the award while speaking to kids ages 18-21 with disabilities). Nominated for Senior CLASS Award. Volunteer work includes tornado relief in Tuscaloosa, earthquake relief in Haiti, local hospital visits.
Manti Te’o—Linebacker, Notre Dame
Nice guy cred: Nominated for Senior CLASS Award. Eagle scout. Visited homeless shelter in South Bend, prepared Thanksgiving dinner. Participated in Irish Experience League with South Bend youths.
Collin Klein—Quarterback, Kansas State
Nice guy cred: Named to the All-State AFCA Good Works Team. Nominated for Senior CLASS Award. Participated in Read to Achieve. Took part in 5th Annual Special Olympics Sports Clinic on KSU campus.
Michael Clay—Linebacker, Oregon
Nice guy cred: Volunteer work for Boys and Girls Club of the Emerald Valley. Pac-10/12 All-Academic honorable mention (2010, 2011).