Years after his final game for Syracuse and Jim Boeheim, even most casual college basketball fans remember Eric Devendorf. Now, some of those memories may not be fond, since the fiery guard from Bay City, Michigan fell firmly into the category of being a guy you loved as long as he played for your team, but perception and reality are two different things. And these days, the reality is that Devendorf is working to help Flint, in whatever way he can.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re no doubt aware of the water crisis in Flint, in which the toxicity of the water flowing through the pipes of the city’s residents is so high that it could wind up being lethal. The lead contamination in the water is believed to be at least in part responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease, which has left 10 people dead so far. It’s a horrifying, deadly tragedy, and Michigan residents are working toward finding a solution while members of the government who let it happen are facing serious repercussions for their inactions.

One of the people working to help is Devendorf, who helped launch both a GoFundMe page and a charity basketball game to raise money for the city of Flint. The goal isn’t much – just $5,000 – but it’s enough to get things started in making the water safe for the city’s residents. Bottled water, research, and filters are just a few of the things the proceeds will go to, both from the GoFundMe page and the cost of admission to the charity hoops game in which Devendorf and fellow former Syracuse player Mookie Jones will participate.

Reputation and perception has been discussed constantly this week as we head toward the Super Bowl, with regard to Cam Newton and how the media and the public treat him. His boisterous, cocky swagger on the field clouds what people think of him as a person, forgetting that he’s an athlete who lives in the moment when he’s on the field.

Honestly, listening to the talking heads go on and on about what’s Cam does right, and what Cam does wrong, and reading the letters to the editors all season from misguided and, frankly, moronic observers who think the Carolina QB is a poor example for their kids, a thug, and a showboat, makes me think of Eric Devendorf.

Devendorf was always an emotional, trash talking player with more pound for pound cockiness than perhaps any other player to ever wear a Syracuse uniform, and it clouded the way people viewed him. They only saw the kid from Michigan, the McDonald’s All-American who loved to jaw at an opponent up and down the court, covered in tattoos – some of which they completely misconstrued. Remember, this was a guy who was vilified for having a neck tattoo, despite the fact that the tattoo displays his daughter’s name and birthdate.

One of the troublesome aspects of being a sports fan is that we see things through a long lens. We’re not privy to the finer details, and what we see from athletes is what we assume is the whole story. Cam Newton dances on the field, celebrates first downs, and just seems to be having¬†way¬†too much fun out there. Naturally, he’s got to be a cocky, selfish prick – never mind his charity and volunteer work, which gets swept under the rug far too often because people would rather decide he’s a terrible role model without actually checking out the facts.

Eric Devendorf has suffered from some of those same perception problems over the years, first when he was deemed college basketball’s greatest villain, and then after he left the program, as well. No one talks about how he came back to Syracuse and got his degree, or how Gerry McNamara – one of the biggest legends in Syracuse basketball history – called him “the best teammate I ever played with.

Perception is everything when it comes to public figures, but that doesn’t stop or negate the good that people like Eric Devendorf are doing. Next week, he’ll bring the Flint water crisis and his fundraising efforts onto the national spotlight. Per Devendorf’s Twitter account, he’s tentatively scheduled to appear on Outside the Lines on Tuesday. Hopefully, when people see the good Devendorf is attempting to do, the perception of him will change.

But to be perfectly frank, as long as you donate money to help the people of Flint, chances are he won’t care if you keep right on thinking he’s an arrogant prick.

If you have the means, please donate on the Beat the Water Crisis GoFundMe page.

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