Call it being naïve, delusional, old-fashioned or just plain unrealistic – whatever word or term you want to use – but I still believe it’s possible and, more than that, important for high-profile athletes to be role models.

Yes, you read correctly. I did indeed say "role models."

Like it or not, and whether you agree with it or not, young people look up to athletes, just like they look up to entertainers. They just do. It’s undeniable. It’s not rocket science.

Young people have dreams of being somebody and making a name for themselves when try grow up, so why wouldn’t they look up to grown-ups who have done exactly that?

For those who say young people should instead be looking up to their parents, it may just be that their parents, in one way or another, aren’t in the picture. Enter these athletes, who are in the picture – the TV picture – all the time.

Whatever the case, though, Northeast Ohio – and its huge population of young people – are extremely lucky, for two of the very best when it comes to big-time athletes being big-time role models, are here.

I’m talking about former Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who retired Wednesday after 11 years in the NFL, all with Cleveland, and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Lebron James.

Thomas is not only the best Browns player of the expansion era, which began in 1999 when the team was re-born after the original franchise moved to Baltimore, but also the best left tackle in club history – even better than the great Lou Groza – and a guy who will someday join Groza as an inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For all of the Browns’ nightmarish play as a team in the last two decades, watching Joe’s near-flawless individual performances week after week, season after season, for over a decade was a real treat.

LeBron, of course, is not just the best player of his generation, but also arguably the best player ever, in any generation.

Interestingly enough, the 33-year-olds were born on nearly the same day late in 1984 -- only 26 days apart, Thomas on Dec. 4 and James on Dec. 30.

They are from entirely different backgrounds, with James coming from inner-city Akron and Thomas from the Brookfield, Wisc., in the American heartland.

And both men are as talented on the field as off it. Despite being in the spotlight all the time, they’ve never been in any trouble. They are leaders in their communities and give back abundantly, especially to children. They do so happily, enthusiastically, and without being asked.

They have long been wise beyond their years. They were already mature, responsible and principled when they arrived to their teams. Their comments – on just about any subject, really -- represent the voice of reason.

Forgot about the sports. Forget totally about the sports aspect of these men. No matter what vocation young people want to go into, they would be oh, so wise to model themselves – their personal lives, how they go about their business, how to be spouses and parents and how to treat others -- after two local guys named Joe Thomas and LeBron James.