Jerome Bettis: A Class Act

On Saturday, February 10, I had the privilege of having "Breakfast with the Bus" — Jerome Bettis, the All-Pro running back from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The event was sponsored by Giant Eagle (a Pittsburgh-based grocery store chain) and cereal company General Mills.

From 8 until 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, 40 persons who had won the breakfast, and 120 of their guests, enjoyed a very nice, family event.

Bettis arrived with his mother and father, as well as other relatives, including an 8-month old nephew. I immediately took it as a good sign that an NFL running back showed up for a fan event with his parents.

After dining on a large bowl of Lucky Charms, Bettis announced that the event was not only to be a chance for an autograph, and picture, and some applause, but that he was happy to field questions from the gathering. He answered questions, smiling all the while, for perhaps 40 minutes. His mother and aunt also spent a time at the microphone.

The story of Jerome Bettis is a story which should gladden the heart.

Raised in Detroit, his sport as a child was bowling. After watching his parents pay to put older siblings through college, he decided to take up football in high school so that he could get a scholarship.

He got his scholarship. At the University of Notre Dame, the football world was introduced to a hard-hitting running back named Bettis. Built like a linebacker, if not a lineman, Bettis was a perfect fit in the run-oriented attack of Lou Holtz (Holtz, by the way, while at North Carolina State, recruited and coached Bettis’ current coach, the Steelers’ Bill Cowher). More than a few linebackers were simply run over by Bettis, as if they had been hit by a bus. Hence the nickname.

The Rams traded Bettis to Pittsburgh in 1996, where he has played with distinction. Since Bettis and I both graduated from Notre Dame in 1992, where I was Sports Editor of the Notre Dame newspaper, The Observer , I have never understood why the Rams let him go. That being said, the Rams’ mistake is Pittsburgh’s gain.

Asked by one fan to name the highlight of his career, Bettis replied that there was no particular play or game that stood out because he was more interested in the opportunities to do good that have been made possible by his career in football.

One of the first things he did upon entering the NFL, Bettis noted, was to buy his parents a house. Bettis has also devoted considerable time (such as the breakfast on Feb. 10) and energy to his charitable foundation — the aptly named "The Bus Stops Here Foundation." The foundation is devoted to helping those inner-city kids who need it most.

The world, not just the NFL, could use more men like Jerome Bettis.

Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.