There's a lot of speculation about former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo even today. Most of it isn't hard to believe. The stories of his huge temper and demanding personality (he "fired" Bill Walsh a number of times), has been frequently observed in his interactions with the media.
But there was also a softer side to him. This article by Daniel Brown contains interviews and insight to what DeBartolo was behind the scenes. It's a really good read and I recommend checking it out before you even finish this post.
I bring this up because someone like Eddie DeBartolo is difficult to find in today's workforce. Sure there's the Christmas bonus at one corporation or the "Take all the time you need" bereavement benefit at another, but a lot of it is similar to the NFL's concussion stance: it's mostly to save face. It's there so they can look good or because it's written in a contract. Really, what do you tell an employee after their grandmother passed away, "We're busy, you need to work here?"
Obviously, this isn't every work environment. There are businesses well documented as wonderful places to work and incredible cultures, but even in those areas, you can always wonder if the ones running things have good intentions when they ask about you or make inquisitions to your life. It's a matter of buying into the person rather than the job and creating that bond keeps employees around much longer and happier than just a contract with a list of benefits (though those are nice too).
Getting on a plane to go across the country to see someone just before they pass away or paying tuition of their daughter is not saving face. Especially when it wasn't even documented until now. If it was about perception, those stories may have hit long ago. And no, I doubt he's the only owner with this type of generosity or even empathy, there are a lot of generous people like him who keep it under wraps so everyone doesn't come asking for something. There are several that were just as kind-hearted as him behind the scenes, but he's the only owner on the ballot right now. DeBartolo is a very demanding person, but he also takes care of his own. Another story in the article was where DeBartolo was shown as introducing himself to a new-hire's (a low level position according to Brown) husband and making small talk at the post Super Bowl XIX party, even knowing both her and her husband by name. You might think that happens often or it's not a big deal.
It doesn't happen often and it is a very big deal.
BS is very easy to detect in this day and age. It's easy to see if someone's behavior is a result of them or because they just want to keep you around just to further their own aspirations. I don't doubt for a second that he had his employees, whether at the 49ers or elsewhere, work long weeks at a time, but I also think the majority had no problem doing it, because of the man they worked for, not the job they worked on.
I've seen arguments that the tone of that article and the interviews contained were done so DeBartolo can get into the Hall of Fame -- he needs 80 percent of the vote to do so. It has a lot to do with what you do outside of the league as well as in it. There's that elephant in the room on his scandal that ultimately cost him ownership of the 49ers, but it was a mistake. We all make those. Plus, judging someone on random incidents like that, especially in the NFL, is ludicrous.
If you work for a guy like DeBartolo, consider yourself lucky and stick around as long as you can. Superiors with that sort of sensitivity are slowly becoming the rarity in favor of whip carriers who will simply replace the broken pieces of the machine when they are grinded into exhaustion. Being a good boss without getting taken advantage of is pretty easy, being a good person and a good boss without getting taken advantage of is incredibly difficult and employees know when you really don't give a hoot.
If this is any indication, Eddie DeBartolo could do both, and his behavior wasn't an act, it was sincere.