Category Archives: Pro Bono

Dedication and Opportunity: The Moyer Foundation

To play professional baseball in four separate decades, along with talent, one must have dedication and an opportunity.  Those two words–dedication and opportunity–seem to be at the cornerstone of Colorado Rockies 49-year-old-pitcher Jamie Moyer’s success.

After taking the mound on April 7 for the first time in the 2012 season, when Moyer pitches his first win for the Rockies, he will become the oldest pitcher in MLB history to pitch a winning game.  While Moyer’s 26 year career has seen numerous accolades, including winning a World Series, Moyer’s career is set apart from that of others not only because of his durability, but because of his impressive record of giving back to his community.

In 2000, Jamie and his wife, Karen–an impressive woman in her own right who holds degrees from Notre Dame and St. John’s University–founded the Moyer Foundation.  The foundation’s mission is “. . . to empower children in distress by providing education and support – helping them to live healthy and inspired lives.”

Using the cornerstones that Jamie has built his impressive baseball career upon–dedication and opportunity–over the past 12 years, the Moyer Foundation has raised over $20 million.  That money has been used to fund grants for over 225 programs serving children.  Additionally, it has been used to fund two unique children’s camps:  Camp Erin and Camp Mariposa.

Camp Erin was launched in 2002 in Everett, Washington.  The camp was started after the Moyer’s met a 15-year-old Cancer patient, Erin Metcalf, who was concerned about the well-being of children who have to endure hospital visits with family members.  After Erin passed away, the Moyer’s wished to honor her memory.  In doing so, the Moyer’s ultimately created the largest network of children’s bereavement camps in the United States.  Since the first time Camp Erin was held in Everett, Washington, its reach has greatly expanded.  Since the camp’s founding in 2002 through 2010, 5,907 children–including those who lost parents in 9/11 or in fighting wars overseas–attended 103 Camp Erin’s in cities across the country.  In 2013, a Camp Erin will be held in every city in which there is a MLB team.

Jamie Moyer speaks with Camp Mariposa participants.

In 2007, the Moyer Foundation launched Camp Mariposa, the first and only camp in the United States dedicated to serving some of the 8.3 million children in the United States who live with a family member battling addiction or co-dependency.  The camp not only gives these children an opportunity to enjoy some childhood fun away from home, but also teaches them coping mechanisms and works to help them beat the cycle of addiction.  While the camp was only held in Seattle in 2007, since then, it has expanded to serve children in other locales.  In 2012, Camp Mariposa’s will be held Indiana, Florida and Washington.

Karen Moyer spends time with Camp Erin participants.

Given Jamie’s busy MLB schedule, when asked how he is able to assist the foundation during the season, the Moyer Foundation National Executive Director Kevin Sullivan said, “He tries to make himself as available as possible–and that can be by such things as taping a TV interview or a radio interview.  If possible, he attends the camps. He likes to be with the children.  He has such a great impact when he is there.  Karen goes to many of the camps as well.  They’re very engaged in the fundraising of the organization, as well as setting the strategic direction.”

Recently, Jamie signed a contract to play with the Colorado Rockies, after sitting out the 2011 season with an injury.  The two cities in which he most recently played–Seattle and Philadelphia–both largely felt the positive effects of the Moyer Foundation.  When asked whether the Moyer’s would continue this legacy in Colorado, Sullivan said, “Knowing the Moyer’s, I’m sure they will.  We do a Camp Erin in the Denver-area.”

Jamie and Karen, welcome to Colorado.  I think I speak for every Rockies fan, when I say we are grateful for the opportunity to welcome two dedicated community servants.

 

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Guest Post: Mercy Project

Chris Field is the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization Mercy Project. His claim to fame is that his first varsity hit was a three run homerun. Unfortunately, that was his only hit of the entire season (he finished 1 for 26 with a .038 BA). You can find him on Facebook and Twitter under mercyproject.

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This site has successfully established a rich and complex relationship between college sports and business. It’s fascinating for the sports nerds among us (and you probably qualify unless you ended up here by accident) to pore over the numbers game behind the teams and sports we love to watch and cheer on. Sports are indeed big business, and it’s riveting stuff.

But today, Alicia has graciously given me the chance to write about another part of the world of sports that I don’t think we talk about enough—the ways sports can bring us together and bring out our best.

This weekend, from Friday to Sunday, a group of 56 players from around Texas will play a non-stop, 49-hour baseball marathon that will land them in the Guinness Book of World Records. As the game is played none of the players involved will leave the playing area. Food, short naps, and bathroom breaks will all take place within a few hundred feet of the foul lines. To be clear, these are not All Star baseball players either. Just one of the players had a short stint playing college ball, and the rest of them would do well to look smooth in front of your typical freshman high school team. But what this group lacks in athleticism they more than make up for in sheer insanity.

How crazy are they? This will actually be their third world record in the last 24 months. First they played kickball for 50 hours, then flag football for 24 hours, and now baseball for 49 hours. So who are these people, and what do these world records have to do with the best of humanity? To answer that, we have to go back to August of 2009 when I found myself in a boat, in the middle of a huge lake, in Ghana, Africa. It was there that my life would be changed forever when I met a 9-year old boy named Tomas. It was there that I held the hand of a child slave.

One of the children Mercy Project founder, Chris Field, met in Ghana, Tomas.

Experts estimate that slavery is more prevalent in the world today than at any other point in history. That’s depressing to think about, isn’t it? It certainly is for me. I had heard snippets here and there about modern day slavery, but it all became a crushing reality the day I met Tomas. To actually hold the hand of a child who had been purchased for about $20, and was now owned by another human, was simultaneously shocking and heart wrenching.

I was even more shocked to find out that Tomas was just one of an estimated 7,000 children in Ghana who have been sold by their destitute parents to work in the labor intensive fishing industry. These children can be as young as five years old, and they work nearly 100 hours a week for their slave masters. To look into their eyes is to see the living dead as they convey an emptiness that still haunts me nearly 2 ½ years after first meeting Tomas.

 

One of the many children Field has met while on the lake in Ghana.

 

I’ve now been to Ghana 14 times, and my wife and I run a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children like Tomas to be rescued and brought new life. Our model involves teaching new methods of cage fishing (called aquaculture) so that the men who own the children will no longer have the need for this child labor.

Mercy Project founder Chris Field and a child in Ghana.

We are literally “teaching a man to fish” so that these children can be rescued and returned to their families.

So that these children can actually be kids again.

So that these children can run, and laugh, and play games like baseball.

That’s why we keep doing these crazy world records. Not for the chance to show our kids we made it into a fat book of records at their school library but so that we can tell our kids we really tried to make a difference. We saw something that was broken, and we tried to find creative ways to fix it.

These events have given us an outlet to do that. They are a way for the average person, athlete or far from it, to be a participant in a way that connects them to something bigger than themselves. Because that’s what sports do, isn’t it? Connect us to something bigger than ourselves? We become fans of a team and get the chance to live vicariously through their touchdowns, three pointers, and triple overtime wins. To feel like a part of an exclusive club because these are “our guys or girls” and “my team.” Sports does that in us.  It does that to us. It gives us a way to feel like we belong.

In the case of these ridiculous sports marathons, it gives us the chance to feel like we belong to something bigger than ourselves. To play a kid’s game, for kids who don’t get to play, is fiercely symbolic and richly poignant. Playing baseball for 49 hours gives us an opportunity to say, “I’m doing this on your behalf, Tomas. Because every child should get to run and play games like this. I’m playing because you don’t get to, and I will keep playing until you get to sub in for me at one of these events.”

Participants enjoy a game of football to support Mercy Project.

But it’s not just symbolic. This game also gives us the chance to do something really tangible and significant. General donations (from people like you) and player sponsorships from this weekend’s game should total more than $30,000. That’s enough money to fund an entire village’s economic development project. That’s enough money to rescue an entire village of slave children. All from a simple baseball game.

The power of sports is broad, and it’s certainly big business. But it’s also world changing. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tomas in a few years.

***To make a donation for this event and the kids in Ghana, you can go here.***

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From Wells We Didn’t Dig: John Wooten and the Fritz Pollard Alliance

In 1920, Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard became one of the first two African-American players in the football league which would become the NFL.  One year later, in 1921, Pollard became the first African-American head coach in NFL history.

By 1933, however, no African-American players remained in the league.  The eradication of African-American players from the league is attributed to numerous factors, including the overt racism of the owner of the Boston Braves (which would become the Washington Redskins), as well as a tumbling economy caused by the Great Depression.

Thirteen years after African-Americans were removed from team rosters, a move by the then Cleveland Rams to Los Angeles forced the reintegration of African-American players into the league.

The Rams desired to play at the Los Angeles Coliseum.  However, recognizing that the Coliseum was paid for using public funds, the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission informed the Rams that if they wanted to lease the Coliseum, they must have at least one African-American player on their roster, to comply with applicable law.  Thereafter, the Rams signed UCLA football standout Kenny Washington to a contract in 1946, thereby securing their move to Los Angeles and a lease with the Coliseum.

In 1936, three years after the NFL was re-segregated and ten years before an African-American player would set foot on an NFL playing field again, John Wooten was born in Riverview, Texas.

The sixth and last child born to his parents, Wooten’s destiny would become that of ensuring that African-Americans were given the opportunity to pursue positions in the NFL of which they were deserving.  While the Cleveland Rams left Ohio to move to Los Angeles and subsequently reintegrate the NFL, the other team in Cleveland–the Browns–drafted Wooten out of college.  In 1967-68, Wooten would finish his NFL playing career with the Washington Redskins.  This was the same Washington Redskins team whose owner, George Preston Marshall, is largely recognized for re-segregating the NFL, due to his stark opposition to signing African-American players.

As the sixth child born to his family, Wooten grew up in a low-economic environment.  He credits the help others gave him for his success in becoming an NFL player, and later a member of the front offices of the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens and the NFL itself.

“All of my life, someone has helped me and done something for me to help me proceed or go further.  Whether it was job opportunities or something, someone was always there to help me.  I came from a low-economic family.  I was the youngest of six, so someone always helped me,” said Wooten.

Former NFL player and current Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten. Photo Credit: The Fritz Pollard Alliance.

Cognizant of the great opportunities he had received through the help of others, along with his own talent and drive, Wooten was aware that he could help other minorities gain hold of similar opportunities.  In his time working with the Cowboys, Eagles and Ravens, he witnessed several programs which assisted minorities in becoming NFL coaches, including the Black Coaches Visitation Program.  The Black Coaches Visitation Program was instituted by former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozell, and granted African-American coaches the opportunity to visit and participate in NFL training camps.

“One of the things that we were always doing while working in the front office with the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens, was trying to open up avenues where more minorities would get the opportunity to coach or work in the front office for teams,” said Wooten.

While Wooten notes the progress made by the Black Coaches Visitation Program and other efforts, he is quick to note that real movement in the effort to promote diversity amongst the NFL hiring process was only made beginning in 2002.

In 2002, famed trial lawyer Johnnie Cochran and attorney Cyrus Mehri commissioned University of Pennsylvania economics professor Dr.  Janice Madden to complete a study related to the number of African-American coaches in the NFL.  The final product, “Black Coaches in the National Football League:  Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities,” showed that only six of the 139 head coaching opportunities in the NFL from 1986 to 2001 had gone to African-Americans.

Citing the study, Cochran announced in 2002 that it was he and Mehri’s desire to avoid litigation, yet promote conversation as to the disparaging number of African-American coaches in the NFL.

Wooten heard Cochran’s call to action and was ready to lend his support to the cause.

“When this happened, I saw it as a godsend.  This is what we needed:  the legal side of it; men who understood the law,” said Wooten.

Previously familiar with Cochran from attending the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans and hearing Cochran speak there on the “Brother to Brother” panel, Wooten called Mehri’s office and said that if he and Cochran were serious about the cause they were promoting, that the group should meet at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and put a plan together.

While at the Combine, the group of men presented their ideas and research to minority coaches and scouts.  Later, they would meet with NFL representatives to create a plan of action for promoting the hiring of minority coaches and NFL front office executives.  Their work would lead to then-NFL Commissioner Paul Taligabue forming an NFL diversity committee.

In 2003, the efforts of Cochran, Mehri, Wooten and the NFL culminated in the Rooney Rule.  Named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Dan Rooney, who has been long recognized for his efforts in promoting diversity, the rule requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coaching and senior football operation position they have open.

Today, Wooten serves as the Chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.  Named after the first African-American NFL head coach, the Fritz Pollard Alliance exists to “promot[e] diversity and equality of job opportunity in the coaching, front office and scouting staffs of National Football League (“NFL”) teams. . .”

Wooten says that the success of the Rooney Rule has been “outstanding.”  Amongst other advances of the role of minorities in the NFL, Wooten notes that in this year’s NFL playoffs, of the twelve teams, eight had minority head coaches and/or front office executives.  Of the final four teams remaining in the playoffs, two (New York and Baltimore) have minority general managers.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance’s slogan is, “We drink from wells we did not dig.”

Throughout his life, Wooten has credited the help others provided him for his success.  Today, Wooten is lending his strength to dig new wells from which men and women seeking careers in the NFL will benefit from for coming years.

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Filed under Labor Law, NFL, Pro Bono

Trailblazer: The Pat Summitt Foundation Fund

For the last 38 years, a prominent feature on the sideline of University of Tennessee women’s basketball games has been a woman who coached her teams to win basketball games by championing hard work, ethics, respect and responsibility.

During the 1974-75 season, a 22 year-old Pat Summitt was named the head coach of the Lady Vols basketball team.  This was in an age when the NCAA did not sanction women’s basketball, and just two years after Title IX, a piece of legislation which would come to promote gender equality in college sports, was enacted by Congress.

Since her first win with the Lady Vols on January 10, 1975, Summitt has become the all-time winningest NCAA basketball coach (in both men’s and women’s basketball) and has led the Lady Vols to eight NCAA national championships, which is only two short of John Wooden’s record of ten NCAA national championships.

Summitt has not only graced millions of basketball fans’ televisions in her signature UT Orange suits and with her perfectly coiffed hair, but has also ensured that each woman who completes her basketball program graduates from college.  She has instilled her “Definite Dozen” teaching method, which promotes ideals like hard work, respect and responsibility, in the minds of the hundreds of young women who have played for her, and likely even in the mind of her son, Tyler, who grew up alongside Tennessee basketball and now plays for the men’s team.

Pat Summitt and her son, Tyler. Photo courtesy of the University of Tennessee.

For nearly four decades, Summitt has literally scaled summits, proving that women can be successful in any profession they choose, while also being involved parents.  She has served as an inspiration, not only to the women who passed through her program, but for the millions of young women who watched her become the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history.

On August 22, 2011, although at the helm of a heart wrenching announcement, Summitt once again sealed her place as a trailblazer for change in the world of college basketball.  On that day, Summitt bravely and boldly announced to the world, that at age 59, she was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.  Rather than shirk away in the face of the diagnosis and keep it secret from the world and her competitors, she graciously shared her personal news with all who were listening.

Summitt’s act of sharing her diagnosis was gracious in the sense that once again, Summitt’s actions will serve as a lesson to the world.  Summitt’s fight against Alzheimer’s is a battle of courage, where the course of the battlefield is paved with opportunities to educate others, encourage future research of the disease and recognize that life goes on, even in the face of adversity.

Months after receiving her diagnosis, Summitt committed herself to the battle against Alzheimer’s by forming The Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.  The foundation exists to make grants to nonprofits which provide education, support and research of Alzheimer’s.

In seeking an administrator for the foundation’s funds, Summitt and her son, Tyler, sought the assistance of a family friend with years of operations experience, Danielle Donehew.  Donehew previously worked alongside Summitt as a coach for the Lady Vols and later as the Executive Vice President of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.  Presently, Donehew is the Associate Commissioner for Women’s Basketball for the Big East Conference.

“I was very honored when Pat and Tyler asked me to help with the foundation.  It was easy for me to accept; I was humbled and honored that they would ask for my help,” said Donehew.

A check for $75,000.00 is presented by The Pat Summitt Foundation Fund to Alzheimer's Tennessee at the Baylor versus Tennessee game on November 27, 2011. From left to right: Danielle Donehew, Alzheimer's Tennessee representatives and Pat Summitt. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

In forming the foundation, Donehew has witnessed Summitt practice what she’s preached to players for nearly four decades:

“One of the things that she always teaches her players, is the importance of having a positive attitude.  You can’t control what necessarily happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.  What keeps going through my head is one of Pat’s Definite Dozen points, which are the twelve principles of her program.  One of those principles is, ‘Make Winning an Attitude.’  She always says, ‘winning is a choice and you need to maintain a positive attitude.’  I think for her, the beautiful thing about what she’s doing now is, instead of feeling sorry for herself, she’s taking action.  She’s said there’s not going to be any pity party.  She wants to help.  Pat’s never been passive; she’s always taken action.  This is a great example of that; she’s certainly not sitting idly by.  She wants to show others that if you receive a diagnosis like this, it doesn’t mean that you should stop living.  You need to continue doing your best,” Donehew remarked.

Donehew has witnessed great support of The Pat Summitt Foundation Fund from the NCAA basketball community.  In fact, the foundation’s first donation came from one of Summitt’s coaching peers when Donehew was seeking the approval of her Big East cohorts to work with The Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.

“I traveled over to UConn and met with Geno Auriemma [the head coach of the University of Connecticut women's basketball team].  I talked with him about the vision of this foundation and Pat’s fight and commitment to fighting Alzheimer’s and hopefully using this foundation to do so.  Before I could get the entire story out of my mouth, Geno was rustling through his briefcase, and opened up his checkbook.  Immediately there, he wrote a check to the foundation.  He said, ‘This should show you that you have my blessing and I support this effort.’  I thought this was a beautiful thing for him to do immediately–he didn’t hesitate.  He was our first contributor of all the coaches in the game,” noted Donehew.

Auriemma’s action in donating to the foundation gave Donehew what she and Summitt sought in creating the foundation:  hope.

“It just gave me hope that this is really going to be an endeavor that the game of women’s basketball, the game of men’s basketball, the sports community, the nation as a whole and the folks who continue to battle Alzheimer’s disease—that hopefully when Pat was going to join this fight, she’d be well received,” said Donehew.

In the coming months, NCAA men’s and women’ basketball teams across the country will lend support to the foundation in various ways.  Presently, the best way for people to support the foundation is to visit the foundation’s website and make a donation.  However, Donehew is quick to note that a monetary donation is not the only way in which individuals can support Summitt’s cause:

“The most important thing, besides donating, is certainly awareness.  It is really important that as a society, that we are aware that there is a large number of folks in our population that are aging, and therefore, there’s a risk for more Americans to be diagnosed with this disease,” noted Donehew.

For the last 38 years, Summitt has coached teams to beat their toughest opponents.

Today, she is leading Americans in the battle to beat the opponent of 5.4 million Americans:  Alzheimer’s.

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A Coach’s Community Cause: Pete Carroll and A Better LA

The innocence of childhood is arguably defined by the time spent walking to and from school.  Backpacks strapped on their backs and dreams of their future held in their mind’s eye, children attend school to better their lives and empower themselves.

But what about those children who fear for their safety while traversing the path to and from school?

For some Los Angeles students, the possibility of being hurt or even killed as a result of gang violence on their way to and from school is a harsh reality, which oftentimes forces them to avoid attending school altogether.

During the eight seasons he served as the head coach of the University of Southern California Trojans football team, Pete Carroll was arguably one of the most-loved athletic figures in southern California.  Fans loved his generally positive demeanor, his ability to recruit star athletes and his leadership skills which translated into his team’s success on the gridiron.

Although Carroll left USC to become the head coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks in 2010, his support of Los Angeles communities continues.

In 2003, Carroll was driving to work as USC’s head football coach when he heard a report that another Los Angeles child had lost his life due to gang violence.

The steps Carroll took after hearing that report demonstrate his natural leadership ability and desire to constantly strive to promote the best interests of others and his community.  Rather than sitting idly by waiting for someone else to initiate an effort to rid Los Angeles of gang violence, Carroll took charge.

“People were dying at epidemic levels back then [in 2003] because of gang violence.  It touched [Carroll] and he wanted to do something about it,” said Brian Center, A Better LA’s Executive Director.

Carroll called his friend, Lou Tice, who along with his wife Diane, co-founded The Pacific Institute.  The Pacific Institute is an organization which educates individuals on how to achieve their full potential.

Carroll and Tice decided to call a meeting in Los Angeles to bring together members of law enforcement and former gang members to begin a conversation as to how they could work together to end gang violence in the city.

“They just had a notion.  They didn’t know exactly what to do.  But they had a notion, if they could change the mindset of CEOs and leaders in the corporate and educational worlds, that they could do the same thing with leaders in the gang world.  They had heard the reports of kids shooting each other and thought that someone must be convincing [the kids] to do that.  So they thought to get to the “influencers” in the neighborhood and teach them the same way as CEOs–with self-empowerment.  They [Carroll and Tice] said they had an idea, not an answer.  They listened to police officers and former gang members.  They came away with this idea of empowering others.  They found that former gang members were doing a lot of work in the community, so since they were already doing great stuff, they just needed to empower them,” explained Center.

Carroll and Tice’s desire to eradicate gang violence in Los Angeles ultimately culminated in the creation of A Better LA.  Building upon their notion that empowering community members could lead to a Los Angeles without gang violence, “. . . A Better LA has evolved into a non-profit that focuses on saving lives and transforming communities.”  According to Center, “A Better LA provides financial support, capacity and life skills training, oversight, accountability and resources to take men and women from the streets and teach them to be community outreach workers.”

Carroll’s charismatic personality and position as the beloved head football coach of the USC Trojans made him the perfect candidate to spearhead significant progress in the movement to end gang violence in Los Angeles.

“He’s a charismatic guy and he’s persuasive and energetic.  He’s a football coach.  He’s not political.  There’s no agenda there.  He just wanted to help.  That made it very appealing and it was very refreshing that there was a new, fresh voice in this area.  In the past, it was people who already had a vested interest [trying to eradicate gang violence] and their voice wasn’t as exciting as a new person coming in as an independent person who said he wanted to help.  [Carroll]  was able to bring people together in a way others couldn’t.  If an inner-city advocate calls a meeting about gang violence, it’s heavy;  but if a charismatic football coach calls it, it’s fun.  He was the perfect guy to get this stuff started,” noted Center.

Carroll was also the perfect person to attract the support of fellow athletes to A Better LA’s cause.

Since its founding, A Better LA has benefited from the support of athletes, teams and apparel brands.  Donors include Carson Palmer, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Nike.  Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp has hosted inner-city students at Dodger Stadium, while both the Dodgers and Angels have provided students with tickets to games. Dodgers pitching coach Ken Howell has even held pitching clinics for students involved with A Better LA, taking them onto the field at Dodgers Stadium to learn pitching fundamentals.  A Better LA’s Board of Directors is host to numerous former Trojans football stars, with Pat Haden, Shane Foley and Darrell Rideaux serving on the Board of Directors of which Carroll is the chairman.  Carroll’s current team, the Seattle Seahawks, serves as a community partner to the organization and Carroll has founded a similar organization in Seattle–A Better Seattle.

A Better LA is grateful for the extensive support it has received from athletes and teams.

“Athletes make it fun and attractive for kids to get involved in an issue that a lot of people aren’t always willing to get connected to.  Not many people who get involved [with A Better LA] have experience with the inner-city and gangs.   Athletes serve a great role in connecting people to the cause,” said Center.

Eight years after its co-founder heard a troubling report about the prevalence of gang violence in Los Angeles, A Better LA remains “committed to supporting Los Angeles communities in [its] goal to reduce gang violence by empowering change from within,” according to Center.

The organization works to achieve this goal by providing free empowerment classes to community members which teach participants to change their thinking so they can achieve their dreams.  A Better LA also funds inner-city groups which not only work to stop gang violence, but engage inner-city children by providing them with positive alternatives to joining gangs.  The organization also engages adults in the communities to work with community children to teach life skills and run sports clinics.

A Better LA also strives to make each Los Angeles child’s path to school safe.  The organization engages outreach workers to serve as school crossing guards to help ensure that kids can get to school safely while also addressing disputes, such as gang turf issues, which may arise during the school-day.

Although Carroll’s coaching career took him from Los Angeles to Seattle, the formula he used in creating A Better LA has allowed the organization to continue to flourish.
“Pete has been our inspiration and motivator, but the way A Better LA was structured, the philosophy has always been to build communities from within.  A lot of people feel A Better LA is their organization, whether it’s people from law enforcement, volunteers or people from the  community.  It’s a strong, broad organization that a lot of people are invested in and that’s why I think it’s such a neat place.  It’s not a typical nonprofit that just serves its 50 kids.  It’s more of a cause.  It’s more of a collaborative effort that keeps it going,” said Center.
While A Better LA has undoubtedly created safer communities in Los Angeles, the cause to eradicate gang violence in Los Angeles has not run its course.
“We need as much help as we can get.  We need people to volunteer and to create awareness and to spread the word about what we’re doing.  This is a very unique cause that a lot of people don’t know about.  The more people who learn about it and spread the word, the better.  A lot of people feel kind of helpless because they don’t know what to do about these problems.  We’ve learned that you can be so powerful as a force, by helping others,” said Center.
To learn more about A Better LA and to become involved, visit http://www.ABetterLA.org.

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His Best Foot Forward: Olympic Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson’s Legacy

In 1945, a young man’s family moved from the segregated farming town of Hillsboro, Texas to a land of new opportunities found in central California.

In the central California town of Kingsburg, a principal at Roosevelt Elementary School handed students a two-inch by three-inch paper called the “Roosevelt R,” which was meant to remind them to be the best they could be wherever they went in the world.

Upon leaving the halls of Roosevelt Elementary School, the young man, Rafer Johnson, eventually found himself attending Kingsburg Joint Union High School.  There, Merrill Dodson, a social studies teacher who doubled as a track and field coach, instilled a sentiment in his track and field prodigy which would become Johnson’s mantra:  Be the best you can be.

In an effort to encourage Johnson to become the best he could be athletically and take up the decathlon, Coach Dodson drove the incoming high school junior to Tulare, California to watch Bob Mathias, then the holder of the decathlon world record, compete in the Olympic decathlon trials.

The decathlon is such an extreme series of physical challenges that its ten events span the course of two days.  To prepare mentally and physically for the challenges faced in the decathlon and to compete against the likes of Bob Mathias, Johnson knew he would have to be the best he could be.

“When we moved to Kingsburg, the people in that town gave all their kids the most optimistic outlook they could possibly have.  My social studies teacher and my track coach was Merrill Dodson.  Nobody knows who Merrill Dodson is except for in that little town.  But he put a positive spin on everything we did.  It was the first time I ever heard someone say, “All I want you to be, is the best you can be.”  So I’ve always just followed that—“be the best you can be,” said Johnson.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court, in an effort to further the United States of America on its path to becoming the best it could be, ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

That fall, Johnson enrolled at UCLA.  At UCLA, Johnson found a legacy of other athletes who subscribed to the notion of being the best they could be.  These athletes included the likes of Jackie Robinson who, after leaving UCLA, broke professional baseball’s color barrier, and Ralph Bunche, the former UCLA athlete whose role as a United Nations mediator between Israel and Palestine earned him the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize.

With a legacy of student-athletes committed to being the best they could be preceding him, Johnson quickly found coaches who motivated him to be his best.  At UCLA, Johnson performed under track coach Elvin “Ducky” Drake.  During Johnson’s recruiting trip to UCLA, Coach Drake implied that he would help Johnson become the best he could be at track and field, by telling Johnson he believed he could earn a spot on the next Olympic team.

Under Coach Drake’s guidance, Johnson participated in the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City.  Johnson not only brought home an American decathlon victory in those games, but a new Pan American decathlon record.  Johnson set this record during the event dreaded by every decathlete:  the 1,500 meters.

Johnson described a decathlete’s distaste toward the 1,500 meters by explaining,

“I would suggest that there probably isn’t a decathlete anywhere in the world who loves the 1,500 meters.  It’s the tenth event, the last event of two days’ of competition and by that time you’re tired.  I don’t care how good of shape you’re in, how prepared you were—at that point, you’re tired.”

Although his closest competitor at the 1955 Pan American Games sat out the 1,500 meters event–meaning that Johnson could have won the gold medal without completing the event–Johnson knew that he would not be the best he could be if he did not run the 1,500 meters.

Johnson’s best that night turned out to be good enough to break the Pan American decathlon record.

Johnson’s training and dedication toward becoming the best decathlete he could be allowed him to secure his place on the 1956 U.S. Olympic roster.  Although battling a knee injury and torn stomach muscle, Johnson won the silver medal for the decathlon in the 1956 Olympics.

While Johnson’s injuries during the 1956 Olympics acted as a setback to his earning an Olympic gold medal, Johnson never backed down from challenges in the face of adversity.

“Adversity. . . is just temporary.  The next event or opportunity is coming along.  Everyday, we face obstacles that we may or may not think are going to be difficult.  They turn out to be one or the other.  What you do, is learn from it, but always look at it as a temporary setback,” noted Johnson.

Alicia and Rafer Johnson in Hermosa Beach, CA

Returning to UCLA in the fall of 1956, Johnson conditioned for the track and field season by playing basketball at UCLA.  On the basketball court, Johnson encountered another influential force whose coaching method mirrored Johnson’s adopted motto of being  “the best you can be.”

By the fall of 1956, the man who would become known to the world as the “Wizard of Westwood” had racked up 184 of his 620 wins at UCLA.  Later, Coach John Wooden’s popular Pyramid of Success featured a top block declaring, “Perform at your best when your best is required.  Your best is required each day.”

“People wonder how he was able to win.  To me, it was very simple.  That’s all he asked of his boys [to be their best], and he got them ready to play the game, physically and mentally.  Being the best you can be is what I think of all the time, whether I’m on the field of competition or not,” explained Johnson.

Johnson’s dedication to becoming the best he could be ultimately granted him a second chance at earning Olympic gold in the decathlon.

At the 1960 Olympic games in Rome, Johnson was named the captain of the American contingent, which was composed of athletes including an eighteen-year old boxer named Cassius Clay and a pioneer in women’s sports named Wilma Rudolph.

Over the course of two hot and humid days in Rome, where temperatures reached up to 90 degrees, Johnson’s chance at Olympic gold came down to the decathlon’s final event:  the 1,500 meters.

Ahead of his UCLA classmate and track and field teammate, C.K. Yang, by only sixty-seven points going into the event, Johnson knew that he could not let Yang win the 1,500 meters by more than ten seconds.  Johnson also knew that Yang’s 1,500 meters best was fifteen seconds better than his personal best.

“I was up against one of the best athletes I’ve ever known in C.K. Yang, my friend and classmate.  My coach Ducky Drake, gave us specific instructions as to how we were each to run that race,” said Johnson.

In that moment, Johnson knew that he had to be the best he could be.

Finishing 1.2 seconds behind Yang, Johnson gave the event his best, as he ran the 1,500 meters in the fastest amount of time he ever had.

“Each of us did exactly what [Drake] told us to do,” noted Johnson.

In recognition of being the best he could be, after completing the 1,500 meters, Johnson stood on a podium in Rome when a ribbon laced with a gold medal was placed around his neck.

“One of us finished first and one finished second.  I believe that’s why he [Yang] and I have remained friends all these years, because he knew he was the best he could be and I felt I had my best performance, as well.  That’s really what it’s all about.  Yes, I wanted to win gold, but I would have been a lot more disappointed winning gold, or any other medal, knowing that I hadn’t brought everything I could to that competition,” said Johnson.

In explaining how he achieved Olympic gold medal success, Johnson emphasizes the importance of one being his best in every moment:

“The way I did my decathlon is, I did one event at a time.  I did the best I could do at that event.  The second event, I didn’t look back at the first thinking, “Oh, I could have done that better,” or “that was a great event for me.”  I tried to be my best in the second event.  And I didn’t look forward to the third event when I was doing the second event. I went through ten events.  That’s all I wanted to do, was be the best I can be.  Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t.  But what I wanted at the end of ten events, was for it to add up to be my best ten events,” explained Johnson.

Johnson’s lifetime personal commitment to being the best he could be allowed him to cross paths with a family recognized by most Americans as exuding excellence.

In 1961, Johnson was awarded the Athlete of the Year award by People to People.  The keynote speaker of the event was United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.  After the ceremony, Kennedy invited Johnson to Washington, D.C., as Johnson expressed interest in international relations and foreign exchange programs.  Johnson accepted the offer and subsequently formed a lasting friendship with the Kennedy family.

Through his friendship with Robert F. Kennedy, Johnson became familiar with Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Shriver.  During the period in which they became friends, Shriver was organizing day camps for individuals with intellectual disabilities at her home.  In 1968, Shriver’s efforts culminated in the first-ever International Special Olympics Summer Games, during which 1,000 athletes competed in various events in Chicago.

While previously involved in community service projects, Johnson’s friendship with the Kennedy’s allowed him to become intimately involved with the Special Olympics and exercise his personal best to support the needs of others.  Since 1966, Johnson has committed himself to giving his best to ensure the success and development of the Special Olympics.

“I was involved in the Robert Kennedy Presidential Campaign in 1968 and I had been involved with the Special Olympics just prior to that in 1966.  Eunice Shriver, Bobby’s sister, started the Special Olympics  because she wanted to involve her sister [Rosemary], who had an intellectual disability and at that point, wasn’t getting any recreation or exercise activities.  Eunice thought life could be better for her.  So she worked on this program,” said Johnson.

At the 1968 International Special Olympics Summer Games, Johnson led 40 California athletes to Chicago to encourage them to be the best they could be.

In 1969, Johnson served as the co-founder of the California Special Olympics by organizing the first annual Western Regional Special Olympics, at which 900 individuals from seven states participated in five athletic events.  In 1995, the California Special Olympics divided into Special Olympics Southern California and Special Olympics Northern California.  Today, 9,000 athletes participate in the Special Olympics Southern California, which hosts a two-season sports calendar during which athletes are given the opportunity to participate in twelve events.

Throughout the 42  year history of what became the Special Olympics Southern California, Johnson has served as a member and president of the board of directors.  Today, Johnson’s commitment to giving his best to supporting Special Olympics Southern California’s athletes is as strong as ever, as he attends every Special Olympics Southern California event.

“I’ll never forget what Mrs. Shriver said [at the 1968 International Special Olympics Summer Games] that, “every athlete here today deserves our attention and deserves this opportunity.”  I remember those words and I think I’ll always be involved with the program, because I came up as a youngster in a very small town in central California and that’s what I think provided the basis for the rest of my career—that somebody helped me be the best that I could be.  That’s what Mrs. Shriver was doing with her inception of Special Olympics and what the Special Olympics program has done ever since.  It has helped special athletes be the best that they can be,” said Johnson.

In a room in a house in Los Angeles, there lies a gold medal that was won by a young man who put forth his best effort on a hot summer night in Rome.

Next to that gold medal, is a crinkled up “R” that his elementary school principal gave him.

Rafer Johnson has never forgotten what it takes to be the best that he can be.

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San Diego Padres Pitcher Luke Gregerson’s Strikes for Foster Care Youth Event

The first steps from adolescence to adulthood are challenging for most.

With adulthood comes new struggles:  Earning enough income to support daily necessities, balancing a budget for the first time, finding furnishings for a new apartment, and maintaining balance upon being granted a significant amount of freedom.

Most young adults stumble a bit as they begin their journeys down adulthood’s path.  For most of these young adults, if they trip and stumble, they can return home to their parents and receive assistance to get back on their feet.

However, in the transitioning stages from adolescence to adulthood, a significant portion of American teenagers do not have a parental support system to help them regain their footing when their path to adulthood becomes rough.

In September 2008, 463,000 children were living in the foster care system in the United States.  While most children in the United States’ foster care system exit the system to either a biological parent, adoptive parent or guardian, many foster children transition out of the system without ever reuniting with a parental figure.  In 2008, 29,000 American children left the foster care system without a permanent place to call home.  These young men and women were placed in a situation where they were forced to wade through the struggles of being a young adult without the assistance of a parental figure.

Luke Gregerson, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, understands the plight of foster care children.  Gregerson grew up in what he describes as a “tight-knit” family.  “I have a lot of cousins and a lot of aunts and uncles and we’re all very, very close,” said Gregerson.  One aunt, Patricia Obosla Katz, opened up her home to numerous children in the community needing a place to stay.  One of those children was Antwan Turpeau.  Katz ultimately adopted Turpeau and Gregerson and Turpeau have been close since.

Turpeau’s years in the foster care system prompted him to use his experiences to take action to better the lives other young adults in the foster care system.  With two others, Turpeau co-founded the Illinois nonprofit organization Struggling Youth Equals Successful Adults (“SYESA”) to provide young adults in the foster care system with the tools necessary to overcome their past obstacles.

“I grew up in foster care the majority of my life.  I used all of the things I struggled with while being in foster care to motivate me to become as successful as possible, to get as much education as possible, and to achieve as much as I can professionally.  My foster-mother was very instrumental in me getting to where I am today, from having a graduate degree—a Master’s in Social Work—to having my own nonprofit,” Turpeau explained.

Through SYESA, Turpeau is able to ensure that children in Illinois’ foster care system receive the mentoring necessary to assist them in furthering their lives to overcome their past obstacles.

“What we do is provide individual life coaches who have also grown up in foster care and have overcome those struggles by going to college and finding a great job to demonstrate [to the foster care children] that they can live on their own.  Life coaches come back and mentor other youth that are in the system now.  We want to show them that you can make it; it’s possible.  The best way to do that is to have individuals who have made it come back and help youth in that situation do the same thing,” said Turpeau.

When forming the board of directors for SYESA, the name of one board member was clear to Turpeau: Gregerson.

“He watched me go through[the foster care] process and we were very close when we were younger.  We got closer when my aunt [and Gregerson's aunt] passed away three years ago.  We wanted to make sure we developed a good organization to help youth the same way that [Gregerson’s] aunt and my mother helped me,” said Turpeau.

Gregerson is enthusiastic about his role as a SYESA board member.  “I became a board member after its first year.  Since then, I’ve been doing everything I can to help them out because, like I said, he’s my cousin, we’re family and we’re a tight-knit group,” said Gregerson.

On Thursday, September 22, 2011, after returning to San Diego from a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies and on the Padres’ only day off during a 13-day period, Gregerson hosted the Luke Gregerson Charity Bowling Event at East Village Tavern + Bowl in San Diego.

The event supported SYESA as well as Just in Time for Foster Youth, a San Diego organization which according to board of directors member Richard Richison “helps transitioning foster youth who are aged out of the system” by doing such things as providing mentoring, financial education and ensuring that transitioning foster youth have the tools necessary to start adulthood on the right foot.

Although the night was the Padres’ only off-night in two weeks, players came out in full force to support their teammate, community and foster youth.  Players mixed and mingled with the event’s guests and were gracious in granting every autograph and photograph request.  Most importantly though, there was a general excitement amongst the Padres players over their ability to give back to their community and support organizations which Gregerson is passionate about.

“We have most of the guys here from the team and it looks like we got the rest of San Diego out here in great numbers.   It means a lot to show that as players, we’re able to make a difference and support the work that Luke put in to put this together while benefitting the kids,” said Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer.

Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin was quick to describe the Padres’ desire to give back to the San Diego community.

“In this city, these people really get behind us and support us.  It’s our way of giving back.  You have to appreciate the people who make it all possible and these guys who come out to support us at our games, those are the ones that make it possible.  So it’s fun to get out and get to know the people who come out and support you,” said Maybin.

Turpeau voiced appreciation for the support the Padres organization and in particular, his cousin, Gregerson, have lent to SYESA.

“To have his support is really great.  He’s a very down to earth guy.  For him to stay grounded and make sure that he gives back, I love it.  It means a whole lot to me, a whole lot to our family and it means a whole lot to our youth, for them to see that people at this level professionally really care about these kids,” said Turpeau.

Gregerson, however, points out that one does not have to be a professional athlete to support their community.

“I think everyone should [give back to their community] , whether you’re a professional athlete or just an everyday, normal person.  Everyone should, because it’s beneficial to society in general when you have not just professional athletes helping out, but everyday people,” commented Gregerson.

With the leadership of Turpeau, the dedication of Just in Time for Foster Youth and the support of Gregerson and the Padres organization, transitioning foster youth are on better footing to take their first steps into adulthood.

To support or learn more about SYESA and Just in Time for Foster Youth, click the following links:

SYESA

Just in Time for Foster Youth

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Championing a Promise: We Will Never Forget

At 10:29 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001–the minute after the final of four planes which crashed that day fell into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania–Americans made a pledge to those who perished:

To never forget.

Actions by wicked terrorists tore the beacon of our country’s financial success–the Twin Towers–down.  Terrible men used their callous efforts to smash into the symbol of our country’s defense against its enemies.  Cowards battled with the brave on a plane which eventually crashed into an open expanse in Pennsylvania.

2,977 innocent people who went to work, were headed to vacations, or stopped to help a stranger, lost their lives that day.

Mothers and fathers were faced with the unimaginable feeling of surviving a child in life.  Wives and husbands faced the reality of “til death do us part.”  Babies and children had the precious time of knowing and loving a parent stripped from them.

As much as was taken from our country and its citizens that day, the ugly face of terrorism could not steal everything.

In the moments following September 11, 2001, the common thread which has tied Americans together since that July 4th in 1776 when 56 men signed their names to a document recognizing the “unalienable Rights” of Americans to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” was only strengthened.

Some of the first responders to the cause to ensure that Americans never forgot the lives of the innocent lost on September 11, 2001 were athletes, teams and sports leagues.

In the early hours of September 11, 2001, the New York Giants landed at Newark International Airport, returning from a Monday Night Football match-up against the Denver Broncos.  The tarmac they passed across held United Airlines Flight 93, which terrorists would later cause to fall out of the sky and land in a field in Pennsylvania, killing all on board.

To say that New York sports teams, like the Giants, and their athletes were touched by the events of 9/11 would be an understatement.  “This was their backyard.  These were their fans.  These were their family members, too,” said Amy Wright, the Director of Development for Tuesday’s Children.

Tuesday’s Children is an organization founded after 9/11 to provide support to children who lost a parent in the attacks, along with those affected by global acts of terrorism.  The importance of an organization like Tuesday’s Children in serving the needs of children affected by 9/11 becomes clear upon learning that 49 percent of the children Tuesday’s Children serves are under the age of 18.  This means, that 49 percent of the children Tuesday’s Children supports were under the age of eight when at least one of their parents’ lives was taken on 9/11.  In fact, the youngest children who lost a parent on 9/11 were not even alive on that day, but instead were being carried inside of their mother’s wombs.

“Some of these kids are ten years old.  It’s so impactful when you think about it in terms of those years.  We serve thousands of children who lost a parent on 9/11.  There are a lot of little children out there who still need Tuesday’s Children’s programs,” said Wright.

In athletes, teams and sports leagues, Tuesday’s Children and other charities formed in response to the September 11th attacks have found the perfect team of responders to champion our nation’s promise to never forget.

“I can tell you specifically, the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, New York Knicks, New York Giants, New York Jets, New York Mets, and New York Yankees really were there [providing support], very close to the inception of the organization.  They took their roles and responsibilities very seriously after September 11th and made a long-term commitment to help these families, as well as the first responders, ” said Wright.

These teams’ support of Tuesday’s Children is expansive.  It ranges from providing up to 500 tickets for any one game for victims’ families.  Wright estimates that over the past ten years, teams have donated “thousands and thousands” of tickets to Tuesday’s Children.  Teams have granted meet-and-greet opportunities, with the New York Knicks going so far as giving children the opportunity to do something Spike Lee pays massive amounts of money for–to watch the Knicks from courtside.  Tuesday’s Children’s participants have also received opportunities to ride the Zamboni at New York Rangers games.  They have thrown out the first pitch at New York Mets games.  The Mets and New York Giants have flown Tuesday’s Children families to various cities to watch each team’s respective games.

Then there are the monetary donations made by athletes and teams.  The New York Mets Foundation has financially underwritten numerous programs for Tuesday’s Children, including a mentoring program for first responders.  Along with the Mets, Major League Baseball players John Franco, Mike Piazza and Tom Glavine financially backed Tuesday’s Children’s Career Paths program, which provides career assistance to children graduating from college and others left behind by a family member after 9/11 who find themselves re-entering the workforce.

Ten years after terrorists attempted to strike a fatal blow to the ideals and values our country has successfully built itself upon, citizens nationwide will come together to participate in the “.  . . single largest day of charitable service in United States history.”  The development of this day of service can be traced back to the generous charitable efforts of New York Mets players in the days following 9/11.

On September 21, 2001–ten days after the 9/11 attacks–the New York Mets took the field for the first sporting event held in New York City after the attacks.  They not only beat the Atlanta Braves that night, but each player also donated a day’s salary to the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children’s Benefit Fund Foundation.

The actions of the New York Mets that night spurred an idea in the head of David Paine, a New York native who describes himself as “. . .a very optimistic person” and believes that “you can accomplish anything if you’re just not willing to give up.”

Paine’s friend, Jay Winuk, lost his brother Glenn in the September 11th attacks.  Glenn Winuk was a partner in the New York City law office of Holland & Knight LLP, which was located one block away from Ground Zero.  Glenn was also a volunteer firefighter and EMT.  After the World Trade Center was attacked, Glenn led others out of his office and then “. . . raced into the WTC’s South Tower to participate in the rescue efforts.”  Glenn lost his life while working to save that of his fellow-man.

Paine and Winuk discussed ways they could “best pay tribute to Glenn and honor all of the other victims,” according to Paine.  Their talks and ultimate decision turned back to the Mets players’ donation of a day’s salary.

“I had read a story in a local New York newspaper about how the New York Mets players and staff had pledged to donate a day’s wages to the 9/11 relief effort.  Mike Piazza’s salary on that day was $68,000.00.  It inspired me and I thought, we can all do that.  We can all donate a day’s pay or a day’s worth of service.  So we set up our first website called OnDaysPay.org.  Then Jay and I formed the nonprofit group One Day’s Pay, which later became the organization we are today, MyGoodDeed,” explained Paine.

In the years since Paine and Winuk founded MyGoodDeed, the organization has become a force in American charitable efforts.

“We wanted to make sure to create a meaningful way for the entire nation to remember the victims who were lost and those who rose in service in response to the attacks and provide a constructive way in which they could pay tribute.  Having witnessed the remarkable way that the country came together in response to the 9/11 attacks in terms of service, it seemed logical that the best possible legacy or gift to the victims would be that if we all pledged to gift to 9/11, for now and ever, in engaging in good deeds,” noted Paine.

Ultimately, the efforts of Paine and Winuk, along with “22 other leaders in the 9/11 community,” prompted Congress to enact legislation “. . . that formally recognized and led to the official establishment of September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance under federal law and Presidential Proclamation.”

MyGoodDeed and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance have received significant support from athletes and teams.  “Many teams have activities they’re designing [to participate in the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance].  The Miami Dolphins and NFL are tweeting and posting messages about our initiative through their own Twitter accounts.  The New York Mets are dedicating their September 9, 2011 home game to remember the events of 9/11 and to support the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance,” said Paine.

NASCAR has also been a supportive partner of MyGoodDeed and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance.  “They are our lead national volunteer activation partner.  They’re responsible for mobilizing hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country,” said Paine.

While both Tuesday’s Children and the September 11th Day of Service and Remembrance have received significant support from countless athletes and teams, arguably the largest monetary pledge made to both organizations as of late came from the NFL.

On August 30, 2011, the NFL announced that it will donate $1 million collectively to three 9/11 memorials, along with Tuesday’s Children and MyGoodDeed.  “We are so honored.  The NFL is an unbelievable entity and organization.  It is a true honor to be in their fold,” stated Wright.

The donations the NFL will make to MyGoodDeed and Tuesday’s Children will come from proceeds raised from items auctioned at http://www.NFL.com/Auction.  NFL players will wear commemorative jerseys at games over the weekend, which will be signed and auctioned.  “Believe me, I’m buying one of those jerseys.  It’s probably going to be Eli Manning’s, because I’m a Giants fan,” noted Paine.

While the efforts of athletes, teams and leagues have gracefully furthered our nation’s promise to never forget, those who don’t make millions of dollars are just as able to hold onto the oath we all made at 10:29 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

“You don’t have to be a superstar to make a difference.  You can make a difference in your community simply by trying to make a difference,” said Paine.

The need for our country’s citizens to come together and support those affected by 9/11, and stand in support amongst other citizens finding themselves in need, has not been extinguished.  “We still have a lot of work to do, and we need people to walk with us in our commitment to never forget and never forget our promise to be there for these families,” said Wright.

In the moments, days, months and ten years following 9/11, our nation’s athletes, teams, leagues and citizens have bravely and boldly held onto a most important promise.

And we will never forget.

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Representing the Majority: Promotion of Integrity by the PAC-12′s Arizona Wildcats and Washington State Cougars

If you follow college sports, over the past week, you’ve arguably had your fill of stories involving integrity in the NCAA.

On August 9 and 10, 2011, NCAA President Marc Emmert called collegiate presidents and NCAA leaders to Indianapolis to specifically discuss methods by which the association can fortify integrity.

Less than one week after Emmert’s summit on integrity concluded in Indianapolis, a jailhouse confession expose shook the collegiate sports fan base and left many questioning whether integrity actually exists in the NCAA.

While the allegations made by a man currently serving a 20-year sentence in jail resulting from his involvement in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, undoubtedly led many to scream for NCAA reform, the stories told from behind bars by Nevin Shapiro relate to allegations involving an incredibly minor number of NCAA student-athletes.  This is demonstrated by the fact that the University of Miami is only investigating the eligibility of fifteen current student-athletes at the heels of Shapiro’s allegations.  The insignificance of Shapiro’s allegations in terms of their demonstration that NCAA student-athletes lack integrity is further demonstrated by the fact that there are 120 student-athletes currently on the football and men’s basketball rosters at the University of Miami.  Hence, Shapiro’s allegations arguably only allow for the questioning of the integrity of 12.5 percent of the student-athletes in these two sports at the University of Miami.  That percentage is even further decimated when you consider the entire populus of student-athletes at the University of  Miami versus the fifteen who are being investigated as a result of the felon’s allegations.

Thus, while the allegations made by Shapiro are indeed serious and should prompt conversation over how integrity can be strengthened in some NCAA programs and within some NCAA student-athletes, sensationalized stories like the one involving the University of Miami by no means demonstrate that the NCAA is void of integrity.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that most major media outlets do not publicize acts of integrity exercised by NCAA programs and their student-athletes.  Yet, absent the vast media coverage of their positive acts that emerges when scandals break elsewhere, many NCAA programs exercise integrity daily through their student-athletes and athletic departments.  The daily actions and programming adopted by two Pac-12 member institutions are demonstrative of the widespread existence of integrity in the NCAA.

Both Washington State University and the University of Arizona pride themselves on the integrity of their respective student-athletes and athletics departments.

Natasha Ostopovich, a senior at Washington State University, left her hometown of Sydenham, Ontario, Canada to attend college in a different country on a rowing scholarship.  Ostopovich found integrity in the Washington State University athletics department as a high school recruit.  During the period in which she was being recruited for various NCAA programs, Ostopovich was nursing a back injury.  Ultimately, Ostopovich found that Washington State University’s rowing coaches “had the best answers and advice in terms of how to deal with the injury and move forward.  I knew I would be in good hands at Washington State University as a student-athlete.”

Ostopovich’s assumptions about the integrity she’d find at Washington State University were correct.  Throughout her time as a student-athlete, Ostopovich has witnessed the promotion of integrity by the Washington State University athletics department not only in the care of its student-athletes, but also in its promotion of academic excellence and community service.

With respect to academic excellence and integrity, Ostopovich noted that the Washington State University athletics department provides its student-athletes with “access to all of the tools necessary to ensure that [student-athletes] have a successful [academic] year.”  Additionally, Ostopovich is quick to point out that at Washington State University, academics are promoted as a priority for student-athletes.  Ostopovich explains that the athletics department “wants every student-athlete to strive to obtain a grade point average higher than what is required to maintain their eligibility.  They want us to embrace being a student-athlete, instead of just being an athlete.”

Through her role as president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee at Washington State University, Ostopovich is greatly familiar with the community involvement of Washington State’s student-athletes.  Although student-athletes are not required by the athletics department to participate in community service activities, Ostopovich estimates that at least 80 percent of the school’s student-athletes participate in community service activities.  These activities address a broad range of needs in the Washington State community.  Student-athletes serve as reading buddies to local elementary school students.  They meet up with local Special Olympians for weekly bowling practices in preparation for a tournament between Special Olympians and Washington State student-athletes.  The university’s student-athletes visit frequently with a local senior home’s residents and even rent busses to bring the center’s residents to games.

Like Washington State University, the University of Arizona’s athletics department is composed of leaders and student-athletes committed to upholding the value of integrity daily.

Becky Bell, an Associate Director of Athletics at the University of Arizona has served in her position of director of the C.A.T.S. Life Skills Program for the last 15 years.  Given her lengthy tenure with one of the most recognized athletics departments in the nation, Bell has heard many debates over the integrity of the NCAA over the years.  “Bad news sells.  Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of people want to read about.  98 to 99 percent of the kids are great kids,though,” said Bell.

Bell is quick to point out how her campus represents the 98 to 99 percent of student-athletes who are “great kids.”  ” The University of Arizona is proud to have had four NCAA women of the year.  This award represents integrity, because it looks at academics, athletics, character, and sportsmanship.  We are the only school in the country to have had four winners.”  Soon, the University of Arizona may be able to add to that number, as former Arizona swimmer Annie Chandler has been named as a finalist for the distinction.

Bell also recognizes the role of an athletics-department in promoting integrity.  She notes that while most NCAA institutions have one student-athlete leadership group, the University of Arizona has three:  Peer Athletic Leaders (a peer mentoring group assisting freshmen transition into college), the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and a program Bell created called STEP UP.

STEP UP is a “bystander intervention program.  The program helps students learn how to help out in problematic situations by teaching them what they can do as a Wildcat to step up, intervene and help the situation,” according to Bell.  Topics covered in the program, which has been adopted by more than 100 colleges, universities and organizations, include:  academics, alcohol and alcohol poisoning, anger, depression, discrimination, disordered eating, gambling,  hazing, relationship abuse and sexual assault.

The STEP UP program promotes integrity amongst student-athletes by teaching them how to apply the value of integrity in dealing with difficult situations.  Bell explains that the STEP UP program is not about “pointing fingers telling [the student-athletes] what not to do.  It’s about telling them what choices to make.  It’s telling them to understand the big picture:  to ask why things are happening, and to give them strategies to deal with them.  The more aware that a student-athlete is about these things, and the greater skill set they have to deal with these issues, will allow us to see more integrity.”

Bell’s level-headed approach to promoting integrity amongst NCAA student-athletes and athletics departments is not only seen in her creation of the STEP UP program.  It is also seen in her realization that the media’s general interest is not in those student-athletes embodying integrity.  “The majority of student-athletes want to create the kind of community we all want to be a part of.  However, we’ll always have those headlines [about programs and student-athletes lacking integrity].  The focus, unfortunately, is on those who have made poor choices.”

It’s time to shift the focus away from the miniscule number of student-athletes whose actions do not embody integrity.  Rather, it’s time to focus attention and to devote headlines to the large majority of student-athletes and athletics departments who work tirelessly to promote integrity.

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Defining Integrity in the NCAA: A Young Man and His City

There was a tree in Auburn.

In fact, two stately oak trees stood the test of time for 130 years at the corner of College Street and Magnolia Avenue–better known to Auburn University Tigers fans as “Toomer’s Corner.”  For generations, the trees, often decorated with steamers of toilet paper strung by jubilant fans after a Tigers’ victory, stood as a beacon of Auburn fans’ pride in their teams’ success.

On January 10, 2011, Tigers fans took to Toomer’s Corner to celebrate the Tigers’ victory over the Oregon Ducks in the NCAA National Football Championship game.

Seventeen days later, a man called a sports radio show and said he poisoned the trees.  The radio show caller indicated he was an Alabama University football fan, who after the annual Auburn-Alabama football game–known as the Iron Bowl–drove to Auburn and poisoned the two prized trees.

Over the past year, an influx of media accounts discussing questionable behavior by coaches, student-athletes, parents and even fans, have left many wondering if any integrity remains in NCAA athletics.

This fact isn’t lost on the NCAA–the organization founded 105 years ago to return integrity to the sport of football.  The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (which became the NCAA in 1910) was formed in response to President Theodore Roosevelt’s call for reform of “the rugged nature of early-day football.

In 2011, the NCAA is seeking to return integrity to the rugged nature that has become the landscape of society’s perception of the association, its institutional participants and student-athletes.

On August 9 and 10, 2011, NCAA President Marc Emmert summoned over 50 NCAA Division I university presidents to Indianapolis, Indiana for a summit discussing issues of “fiscal sustainability, academic performance of student-athletes and integrity.

With respect to the integrity component, President Emmert noted, “Integrity is a value that cannot be legislated.”

Emmert is correct that integrity cannot be instilled in student-athletes through the NCAA’s bylaws.

However, participants of the NCAA President’s Summit and fans alike must realize that despite the frequent media reports of fans poisoning prized trees, dads attempting to sell their son’s talents to the highest bidder, and tattoo shop owners bartering permanent ink for what should be a young man’s prized possessions, integrity exists in the NCAA.

While recognizing that the NCAA cannot “legislate integrity,” President Emmert noted that the NCAA “. . . can certainly define integrity.”

To define “integrity,” the NCAA should look past Webster’s Dictionary and instead, to former NCAA student-athlete, Charles Gaspard.

While there were two trees in Auburn, there was a vibrant, bustling city in New Orleans.

On August 28, 2005, a storm hit, levees broke and a city was washed away.

Charles Gaspard, who grew up in New Orleans, was a high school senior at McMain High School in the city’s Orleans Parish when Hurricane Katrina hit.  A Wide Receiver on McMain’s football team and a soccer player, Gaspard estimated that he was one or two weeks into his senior year when the “costliest national disaster” in United States history struck.  Gaspard can estimate this amount of time, because he remembers, “there wasn’t even long enough for us to have our first football game.”

As the storm approached, the then 17 year-old Gaspard and his parents made plans to evacuate New Orleans.  Gaspard explains matter-of-factly, “the hurricane came and we had to get out of dodge.”

However, evacuation meant that Gaspard–an only child–would be separated from his parents.  Gaspard left New Orleans for Atlanta with his next-door neighbor’s family, who because of the length of time Gaspard had known them, Gaspard considered family.  His parents, however, made their way to Houston.

While the rest of the world watched the horror unravel in New Orleans, as citizens stranded on rooftops begged for rescue by passing by helicopters as flood waters rose, Gaspard lived the reality of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.  Gaspard explained, “You’d look on the news and try to see any area you recognized that was by your house.  I remember when I saw Six Flags, and everything [at the theme park] was under water.  Everything I had ever known was gone.”

“To top it off, not having my parents there was kind of rough.”  For two weeks, Gaspard was unable to contact his parents, due to cell phone towers being down as a result of the hurricane’s destruction.  Gaspard noted that evacuating to Atlanta was his first time being away from his parents.

And although they were 800 miles apart and unable to make contact with each other for two weeks, Gaspard “knew they were o.k.,” because he “knew they went to Houston.”

That’s strength.

Upon arriving in Atlanta, Gaspard and the family he traveled with found refuge in a home provided for them by an anonymous Atlanta Falcons player.  The adults Gaspard traveled to Atlanta with made sure Gaspard enrolled in school in Atlanta.  Thus, 17 years-old and 800 miles away from his parents, Gaspard did not play hooky from school, and enrolled at Atlanta’s Westlake High School.

Two weeks later, the family Gaspard fled to Atlanta with left the city for Tampa, Florida.

For the second time in his life, Gaspard was alone.

But Gaspard is a young man with drive, a young person defining “ambition.”

He quickly connected with a counselor at Westlake High School, who he found out lived in the same Atlanta neighborhood he had been staying in.  Gaspard explained his situation to the counselor, and the next thing he knew, Gaspard was living with his high school counselor until the day he graduated from Westlake High School.

At Westlake, Gaspard continued pursuing his athletic passions and played soccer and Wide Receiver on the football team.

Gaspard’s Quarterback at Westlake?

A 16 year-old future Heisman Trophy winner and first overall NFL draft pick named Cam Newton.

At one Westlake football practice, a Tulane University Wide Receiver’s coach came to recruit players from the team.  Gaspard’s coach introduced the two, and Gaspard told the Tulane coach he was thinking of attending college at Tulane, since his mother worked at the university.

Ultimately, Darryl Mason would make Gaspard an offer to join the Tulane Green Wave football team as a walk-on.  Without a scholarship or promise that he’d ever play a game, Gaspard accepted this offer and enrolled at Tulane University.

That’s dedication.

As no playing time was promised to Gaspard, Gaspard did not see any playing time his freshman year at Tulane.

He explains that his first year on the football team was “hell.”

“I was behind all of the other guys in the weight room by 100 pounds.  I was smaller than them in terms of weight.  My football, as far as playing-wise was under developed,” said Gaspard.

So Gaspard invested time in improving his game.  “I took a lot of time with Coach Woods, the Wide Receiver’s coach for Tulane, after practice, running routes.  I’d work out with the team at 6 a.m. and after practice, go back and lift again to catch up,” said Gaspard.

Gaspard’s efforts proved fruitful.

He saw playing time as a member of the Tulane Green Wave football team.  “It was a dream come true.  It was really fun playing in the ‘Dome, after sitting in the stands for so many years,” Gaspard reminisced.

And although Gaspard came to Tulane without a scholarship as a walk-on member of its football team, he left Tulane as a scholarship student-athlete.

Gaspard’s commitment to improving himself as a football player is depicted by the story he tells of his senior season, which he calls his “most enjoyable.”

“I didn’t get to play much, because I had knee surgery from an injury I got at summer camp right before the season.  The doctors said I wouldn’t be able to play football anymore and told the coaches not to expect me back.  It was a big hit.  Coach told me that I had been great, but to handle my academics—this was almost like receiving walking papers.  I couldn’t accept that, so I was rehabbing three times a day.  I was able to play the last five games of the season.  Nobody thought I could come back and play.  It was fun.  Really fun.”

That’s commitment.

As a Tulane student-athlete, Gaspard served as the president of the school’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee (“SAAC”).  Through his own desire to give back to the New Orleans community after Hurricane Katrina, along with the help of various athletics advisers at Tulane, Gaspard spent a significant amount of time visiting youngsters in New Orleans, sharing his experiences and life skills in an effort to prepare them for college.  In meeting with New Orleans’ youth, Gaspard sought to instill a desire within them to get good grades, respect their teachers and elders, and pursue further educational opportunities.  While Gaspard clearly gave greatly to his city’s youth, he is quick to note that in giving back, he “learned from [himself] and the kids–not so much from what [he] said to the kids, but what they asked [him] in return.”

That’s maturity.

The next time someone tells you there isn’t integrity in NCAA athletics, tell them you know the story about a strong, dedicated, committed and mature young man.

Because Charles Gaspard is proof that there is integrity in the NCAA.

Today’s post is the first of a series RulingSports.com will be running on integrity in NCAA athletics.  Check back on Monday for a story highlighting another Division I institution.

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