So here’s our Christmas movie pitch for next year: We open on a deposed hedge fund manager named, umm, Shmartin Kreli in a hoodie, his face pressed against a police car. The cop whips out the handcuffs. He hears the rattle of Marley’s chains as the Ghost of Christmas Past steps into the squad car behind him. Ghost in chains, criminal in handcuffs, right? So the… you know what? Enough of the year-end worst. The following distinguished dudes stepped up and made us proud to be men in 2015…
Bill Kennedy: The NBA referee for more than 1,000 games over 18 years got called a homophobic slur by Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo and chose this moment to come out of the closet. “I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man,” Kennedy told Yahoo Sports. “I am following in the footsteps of others who have self-identified in the hopes that will send a message to young men and women in sports that you must allow no one to make you feel ashamed of who you are.” Sounds like a lot better role model than a lot of guys who play the game. Bravo.
The Fellas at Khan Academy: These guys—who make SAT prep free—have made their mission simple: “a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” They even work with the College Board, the evil corporation who not only created the SATs but charged you to take their classes on how to beat ’em. This is the future of education that Steve Jobs used to beg for: personalized, interactive and, best of all, free.
Joe DeMarco: Often the care people need and the care they can get are too far apart. DeMarco fixes that; he uses a private plane to fly sick kids to the destinations where they can get the best medical treatment, free of charge, through his homemade charity “Wings.” Last year the full-time pilot flew 340 such goodwill missions. Why? “I get paid in smiles and thank yous,” he says.
Sonny Bill Williams: The once-controversial boxer and rugby player finished 2015 with a magnanimous bang. He gave World Cup semifinal tickets to Syrian refugees and lifted a vanquished South African opponent off the turf. Then, when security overreacted and steamrolled a 10-year-old boy who rushed the field after New Zealand beat Australia in the final, Williams grabbed the kid and placed his World Cup winner’s medal around his neck while a previously ambivalent crowd cheered.
Al Johnson: On the first day of school, this Hartford, Connecticut pastor organized a group of 100 local businessmen, firefighters and professionals to dress up sharp and high-five kids as they walked into one of the state’s poorest elementary schools. “They were just happy,” he says. “Have you ever seen a kid just genuinely happy? The first day of school is so hard. You gotta get to know people. That just completely broke the ice. When they came through they were just excited.”
James Jones: Let’s face it: Many pro baller’s “foundations” are empty tax scams. But this Green Bay Packers wide receiver knows what kids on the street need. On the day he was born he and his mother left the hospital without a home. His groups Love Jones 4 Kids charity provides food, football camps and other programs to San Jose-area kids who need it most.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Runs as a republican. Cites Reagan as a hero. His tough-guy reactionary movies glorify guns and violence. And yet he’s the one who posts a FB note reading: “I Don’t Give a F*** If We Agree On Climate Change.” Which is the exact right attitude a thinking man should have. I don’t care if we agree. I don’t care if it’s not the party line to have my own thoughts. But I thought it through and this is what I’ve come up with, and let’s do something.
Justin Trudeau: About the new Canadian Prime Minister, a female friend put it best the other day: “If it wasn’t the face, the charm, the easy bilingualness, the progressive politics, the insisting on half of his cabinet being women, the appointing of a Sikh as his defense minister, or his past as a boxer, dancer, snowboarder and stoner—not to mention his sassy way with trite and lazy reporters—it had to be the fact that he not only personally welcomed a plane full of Syrian refugees and handed them Canadian passports, but he thought to bring them all winter coats and boots.” Bang on, mate.
You (Yeah You)! Thank you for being great in 2015. You are a thinking man. You know there is good in the world. You’ve seen it. You’ve been part of it. You’ve supported great causes like one writer’s campaign to help this girl in Bolivia get the surgery she needs. You look out for others, and goddammit we respect that. Thanks for all you’ve done, and here’s to going even bigger, better and brighter in 2016!