When I was young, someone once asked me who my sports hero was. Without hesitation, I responded: Roberto Clemente. Considering the fact that no other Puerto Rican athlete had achieved the same level of admiration, respect, and love, the answer was easily accepted.
Clemente, the youngest of seven siblings, grew up working in the same sugar fields as his father. At the time that he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, baseball was just breaking the color barrier, and Clemente spoke very little English. But none of that deterred Clemente. He went on to become the first Latin American/Caribbean player to win a World Series as a starter, receive a National League MVP Award, receive a World Series MVP Award, and be elected to the Hall Fame. During his career, Clemente won 12 Gold Glove Awards, 4 National League batting titles, and 2 World Series Championships; was named to 12 All-Star Games; and reached the 3,000-hit milestone—something only 10 players in the history of the major leagues had ever done up to that point.
But what might be surprising to some is that the reason I admire Clemente has nothing to do with his professional accolades. As revered as Clemente was for all his professional achievements, I admire him more for his actions off the field than on the field. Indeed, it was the countless tales of Clemente’s generosity that turned a simple man (by all accounts) into a legend of fierce ethnic pride for me.
Clemente spent most of his time during the off season doing charitable works by helping people (especially children) and giving of himself. The countless schools, hospitals, public buildings, monuments, and statutes that bear his name are a testament to his philanthropy. But his generosity was never calculated to gain public or private recognition. As Clemente once said, “I want to be remembered as a baseball player who gave all he had to give.”
And giving his all, he did. In response to a massive earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua, Clemente set out to arrange for emergency relief flights carrying aid. But when he learned the aid had not reached the victims because the government of Nicaragua had diverted the first three flights, Clemente decided to accompany the fourth relief flight in the hopes that his presence would ensure that the aid reached the victims of the earthquake. But as fate would have it, Clemente’s plane crashed shortly after takeoff with no survivors.
Clemente’ story is a reminder, to me, as lawyers much has been given to us but much is also expected. It is impossible to ignore the different crises affecting us (most stemming simply from a lack of access to justice) and the need for legal professionals to lend a hand. In each story, there is an echo that reminds me that there must be more to our profession than simply billing hours or making money. This year consider taking on a pro bono case. To paraphrase Clemente: We should strive to be lawyers who gave all we had to give.