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Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Doing the right thing

By Rick Reilly
ESPN.com

Thomas James, Kell'E Gallimore, Jelani Bruce and Anthony Biondi
William Paterson University football players, from left, Jelani Bruce, Anthony Biondi, Thomas James and Kell'E Gallimore made the play of the year while shopping on Aug. 25.
WARNING: This college football column does not include illicit autograph sessions, under-the-table house payments or bloody-nose bar brawls. It will not require a 30-minute suspension. It may even make you feel fuzzy all over about college football players. Proceed at your own risk.

As the operations manager for Buddy's Small Lots, a catch-all chain store in New Jersey, Marci Lederman sees the worst from people daily on the 50 closed-circuit cameras in her stores.

"I see people stuffing two items into one box and then only paying for that one," she says. "I see people eating food in the store and hiding the wrapper. I see employees sitting around doing nothing because they think nobody's watching."

But she's never seen what she saw from four Division III football players last week.

It began when she got a call from the police that there had been an after-hours break-in at her Wayne, N.J., store. She expected the worst. Sure enough, on the video, she saw four large young men come in the front door, which was accidentally left unlocked after closing.

"My VP was looking at the video with me," Lederman remembers. "He saw those four boys and goes, 'Uh-oh, that's it. We've been robbed.'" But as the video played, they saw the oddest thing: integrity.

The four young men, who play football at nearby William Paterson University, picked up the items they wanted and then looked around for -- get this -- somebody to pay.

"We were down there for 10 minutes looking for someone," wide receiver Anthony Biondi emailed me. "We thought everybody was in the back on break."

It was easy to see why they thought it was open. Buddy's always keeps some lights on after hours. Plus, the new motion-sensor Halloween monsters kept going off every time one of them got within five feet of them."It was creepy," wrote defensive back Kell'E Gallimore.

Time was running out. They had to get to practice. So wide receiver Thomas James pulled out the $5 to cover the batteries and a video cord they needed, waved it at the surveillance camera above the cash register and laid it on the counter.

If there's one thing I've learned about parenting it's that the best gift you can give your kid is someone they'd hate to disappoint.

That's about the time on the tape when the VP slapped his forehead and said, "Uh-oh. I have to eat my words."

It gets better. One of them took 80 cents out of his pocket and laid it on the counter, too. Tax.

It was a first: Surveillance cameras catching somebody in the act of honesty.

As if all that wasn't enough, the players went next door to Rite Aid to warn them that Buddy's was open but nobody was home. Eventually, Rite Aid called the police, who called Lederman to report a break-in. But it wasn't a break-in. It was a breakout. Of honor.

Nobody was watching and they still did the right thing.

When the closed-circuit video went viral on News 12 New Jersey and the players were identified, the coaches told them Buddy's manager wanted to speak to them.

Uh-oh.

"We thought we were definitely in trouble," remembered wide receiver Jelani Bruce.

"People are usually only on the news looking for people in a bad way," wrote Gallimore.

"I didn't know if it was a crime or not," wrote James.

Crime? This was a reward! Lederman just wanted to give them a $50 spending spree each to thank them for their honesty.

And why not? She expected shoplifting and got spirit-lifting instead.

"They were just so sweet and grateful," Lederman remembers. "They all bought pillows."

If there's one thing I've learned about parenting it's that the best gift you can give your kid is someone they'd hate to disappoint.

These four young men had that someone when it mattered most. For Biondi, it was his mother. For Gallimore, it was his whole family, who now call him "Honest Abe." For James, it was his father. "He sacrificed a lot for me," James wrote. "I want to make him proud of me. I don't want him to look at me like I was a waste of time."

I love this story. It makes me want to go hug somebody. I cover young, urban athletes nearly every week and 99 percent of them are fine and honest and good. Dreads and hoodies and baggy pants are not moral statements, they're fashion statements, nothing more. These four just made that a whole lot easier for me to explain.

I asked the four if there's one lesson they hope people will take from all this. Two of them gave the exact same answer: "You can't judge a book by its cover."

Somewhere, I hope George Zimmerman is listening.