Just what kind of a good sport is offensive lineman Joe Staley?
The day after the 49ers announced Staley was a finalist for the NFL’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, to be announced Feb. 3, Staley met with reporters in the locker room to discuss the honor of the nomination and his good sportsmanship.
Reporters were looking for a serious story, a humorous anecdote, any example they could use in their articles of Staley being a good sport and a swell guy.
“Didn’t you try to break up a fight a few years ago when you guys were in Tennessee playing the Titans?” a reporter asked.
“No, I started it,” Staley said with a sly grin. “Yeah, what a good sport. Great sport. Just making sure everybody’s energy levels were up during the game. Felt like there was a lull. Fans weren’t getting a show. So yeah, started a fight. Forgot about that. Bernard Pollard. That was when Jim Harbaugh jumped in the middle of it.”
That was 2013. Staley was 29. Still developing his sportsmanship.
In 2014, the NFL created the Art Rooney Award, which annually honors the “player who best demonstrates the qualities of on-field sportsmanship, including fair play, respect for the game and opponents, and integrity in competition.” The award was named for the late founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a man who spent much of his youth as a brawling amateur boxer and later purchased his football franchise with winnings from a racetrack.
Staley has been one of eight finalists for this award each of the past three seasons.
What would it mean to him to win the award?
“It’s nice to be recognized,” Staley said. “It’s about playing the game the right way. People recognize that, just being professional and carrying yourself the right way on and off the field.
“I know it’s entertainment for fans and everybody, but it’s also a job for us. I approach it every single day as a professional. You’re supposed to live up to a certain standard, whether that be Wednesday in the meeting rooms and on the practice field or on game day. There’s a certain way to play the game. I don’t know if it’s something I consciously try to do, but I always try to put my head down and do the right thing.”
How did Staley learn these values?
“Definitely started at home,” Staley said. “And then, I had a great high school football coach — Ralph Munger. He was pretty instrumental in terms of teaching me work ethic. Because I was really crappy when I started playing football.
“I started when I was 9, and I was always crappy. I was third string all the way until I was a junior in high school. But I loved playing football. Coach Munger ingrained that work ethic in me, that if I wanted to be good at something, I have to work for it. That stayed with me throughout my whole career.”
Munger coached Staley at Rockford High School in Rockford, Michigan, back when Staley allegedly was a “crappy” player. Munger laughed at that.
“Joe was very good,” Munger said on the phone. “He was blessed with size and speed. And he’s got all those personal traits that you appreciate, because he was always a team guy, always unselfish.