By: Matthew Mullin
Not a lot of people know about my storied career in law enforcement.
Long before I decided to enter the glamorous, high-paying field of journalism, I was — if only for a brief time — Police Commissioner of Philadelphia.
It was a meteoric rise unlike anything the city had seen before and my appointment was a stunning one for several reasons, first and foremost being that I had never graduated from the police academy. I had also never served as an officer. Oh, and did I mention I was still in high school?
None of that, however, seemed to matter on this cold, snowy February day. There was work to be done. Important work. So I put on my best suit and headed out the door, but not before eating the breakfast my mother had prepared. My city needed me, and nothing was going to get accomplished on an empty stomach.
Once I arrived at police headquarters, which those in the know call The Roundhouse, I realized there was little time to waste. After taking a tour of the building and making sure everything was up to par, I headed to my office for a quick photo-op in my new desk. And then, it was off to a board room full of other top police personnel and city officials for one of the most important meetings imaginable.
You see, this was no ordinary February afternoon. It was 2005, and in a few days the Eagles would be taking on the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. There was a parade in need of planning.
As I sat and listened to the advice of all my staffers, one thing became abundantly clear: they cared about this as much as, if not more than, your average citizen. I also learned an important lesson that day, one that has stuck with me throughout my career and helped me deal with challenges that could have left me otherwise defeated.
Sometimes — no matter how much work you put into something, and by no fault of your own — things just don’t work out. Time will be wasted. Great ideas will never come to fruition. And you just have to deal with it. The sooner you realize that, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with life’s seemingly endless string of challenges.
I can confidently say that the festivities planned that day would have made the Phillies World Series celebration look like a small-town Veterans Day parade. But, as we learned a few days later, there would be no party down Broad Street, no need for a parade.
Still, I can say I was there, sitting in the room as the city planned a Super Bowl parade that would never happen, because of one of the many opportunities the Police Athletic League afforded me growing up.
My experience as Police Commissioner for the day, part of PAL Day at City Hall, was just a small part of a larger role the organization played in shaping me as a person. From the time I could throw a baseball or dribble a basketball, I was playing at PAL. Summing up everything I did there would take far too long, but suffice it to say that if they offered it, I did it (with the exception of gymnastics). From playing basketball with a future NBA all-star (Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors) to playing golf for free at some of the nicer courses in the area, it was PAL.
And it wasn’t just sports. I was also a bit of a nerd, winning the PAL Challenge three years in a row and also competing in things like the 24 Challenge. And ultimately, I found myself rubbing elbows with some of the most important people in the city, not just during my day as Police Commissioner, but also during a few lunches at The Union League or charity dinners.
My involvement continued right on through high school until I left for college. But even then, 1,200 miles from the Gibbons PAL Center where I used to play pickup basketball after school, PAL was still helping me — this time in the form of a $1,000/year scholarship.
And when I graduated from the University of Miami, guess who was at my graduation party? Officer Tony D’Aulerio, who has been running Gibbons since my days with PAL began and will retire this summer after 20-plus years at the center.
It’s those kind of bonds and experiences that make institutions like PAL so important. It helped me realize that police officers aren’t at all like how television so often portrays them. And whether or not you agree with the laws they enforce — and how a select few choose to go about doing that — doesn’t much matter. They’re normal people, doing an important job and making differences in far more ways than the media will tell you about.
I should know. After all, I was once their boss.