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"Some Kind of Philanthropist": Super Bowl Contenders on the Charity Playing Field

 

"Some kind of football player." If you've ever watched a professional football game on television, you've probably heard the phrase. The sportscasters are right: the men who clash on the gridiron are talented athletes and fierce competitors.

National Football League players excel in another way. From visiting children's hospitals to creating their own charitable foundations, hundreds of gridiron gladiators throughout the country work to help the less fortunate. The men who met in Super Bowl XXXIV on January 30 are no exception.

Supporting Quests for a Cure

The range of charities the players support is nearly as broad as philanthropy itself. Many donate time and money to help combat specific diseases. Tennessee Titans kicker Al Del Greco cosponsored a golf tournament to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Linebacker Joe Bowden donates time to the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, and free safety Marcus Robertson is on the board of the Texas Gulf Coast Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation.

Attending to Children with Disabilities and Illnesses

Many players contribute to organizations that help children cope with physical, mental, or emotional challenges. St. Louis Rams guard Adam Timmerman and his wife, Jana, donate time to the March of Dimes. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce gives Childhaven, a nonprofit that serves children with behavior and language problems, $500 for every touchdown he scores. Jeff Wilkins contributes $50 for every field goal he kicks to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.

Defensive end Grant Wistrom gives Rams home game tickets to Cardinal Glennon patients. Fellow defensive end Kevin Carter donates tickets to children through the Leukemia Society.

Last fall Carter, Wistrom, and Wilkins joined teammates Torry Holt, D'Marco Farr, Billy Jenkins, Az-Zahir Hakin, Rich Coady, and Roland Williams and the Rams cheerleaders as celebrity waiters at a fundraising dinner. The evening generated more than $20,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Metro St. Louis. Tips earned by the players and cheerleaders made up almost $6,500 of that total.

Titan Al Del Greco also supports the Make-a-Wish Foundation; he donated a portion of the proceeds from his golf tournament to Houston's chapter. Titan wide receiver Chris Sanders visits ailing children at Ronald McDonald House, and Marcus Robertson has sponsored field trips for Dick Dowling Middle School students who have disabilities.

Helping Children at Risk

The gridiron giants also assist kids who are at risk for other reasons. Titan wide receiver Yancy Thigpen bought winter coats for children in Nashville. Marcus Robertson, through his Marcus Robertson Children's Foundation, helped send four teenage delegates to the national Voices Against Violence conference in Washington, D.C. Robertson is also on the Celebrity Ambassador Council for Celebrate the Child. Titan defensive tackle Mike Jones gives his time to Boys and Girls Clubs in his home state of South Carolina. Chris Sanders organized a charity basketball game to raise money to help children in need.

In St. Louis Isaac Bruce donates home game tickets, T-shirts, lunch, and transportation—in a limousine!—to area children's organizations. The Roland Williams Youth Lifeline Foundation helps children in St. Louis and Williams's hometown of Rochester, N.Y., develop skills they will need as adults. Williams, who wears Rams number 86, donates $86 to his foundation for every catch he makes.

Promoting Education

Tennessee Titan players often can be found at Nashville-area schools. Linebacker Eddie Robinson speaks at elementary schools, and fellow linebacker Barron Wortham and left tackle Brad Hopkins make speeches encouraging kids to stay in school.

The pros don't just talk the stay-in-school talk, however; they put their money and fundraising skills where their mouths are. Titan Marcus Robertson organized a celebrity basketball game that provided $500 scholarships to three athletes at John Muir High School. The Eddie Robinson Foundation awards college scholarships.

St. Louis Rams players also support educational efforts. Defensive tackle D'Marco Farr donates Rams tickets to participants in Aim High, a program that helps disadvantaged fifth- to eighth-grade students succeed personally and academically. Tackle Orlando Pace provides tickets to children from Operation Excel, and center Ryan Tucker gives tickets to students from Logos School.

Free safety Keith Lyle, captain of the "Rams Reader Team," donates $500 to area literacy programs for every interception he makes. Cornerback Todd Lyght has established scholarships at St. Mary's Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., L. M. Powers Catholic High School, and Notre Dame University. Lyght also contributes to the United Negro College Fund.

Hosting Sports Camps

Not surprisingly, a number of football philanthropists sponsor sports programs for children. Rams running back Marshall Faulk supports football camps for children through his Marshall Faulk Foundation. He donates $2,000 to the foundation for every touchdown he scores.

Titan Mike Jones hosts an All-Star Football Camp in Columbia, S.C. Marcus Robertson sponsors "Books & Balls Camps" in Houston and Pasadena, and Chris Sanders holds a football camp for underprivileged children.

Assisting Families in Need

Many NFL players also reach out to families. Last Thanksgiving Titan Yancy Thigpen provided meals to 200 homeless women and children; teammates Joey Kent, Kevin Dyson, and Spencer George and Titans cheerleaders, mascot, and staff helped him serve the meals. Led by cornerback Anthony Dorsett, the Titans defensive backs gave 50 food baskets to underprivileged families.

Chris Sanders and his family took 30 Nashville families Christmas shopping, providing each with $400 to buy gifts and everyday items. Through the Chris Sanders Foundation, Sanders and his wife, Stacey, provide families up to $1,000 for housing deposits and their first month's rent so that the families can leave shelters for homes of their own.

St. Louis team members donated $5,000 for Thanksgiving food baskets to the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, then helped distribute the baskets to St. Louis families.

Combating Homelessness

Other programs assist the underprivileged of all ages. Kevin Carter and D'Marco Farr created the Rams Rushmen to SACK HOMELESSNESS. Carter, Farr, end Jay Williams, and special teams player Jeff Robinson contribute $500 to the St. Patrick Center homeless shelter for every time the Rams sack an opposing quarterback.

Carter and Farr also joined forces for the Coat and Blanket Blitx to benefit American Red Cross homeless shelters. On the other side of the ball, tackles Fred Miller and Orlando Pace spearheaded the offensive line's efforts to buy Thanksgiving meals for the Loaves and Fishes homeless shelter.

In Nashville the Chris Sanders Foundation contributes to several local shelters, and once a month between April and August 1999, Sanders provided hot breakfasts for up to 100 men at a local mission. He also visited the mission on Saturdays. Chris and Stacey Sanders have produced a calendar featuring Titan players and fitness tips; sales of the calendar will support the Sanders Foundation's efforts to help the homeless.

Pitching in with Disaster Relief

Offense, defense, and special teams also step up when disaster strikes. After a tornado hit East Nashville in 1998, Titan punter Craig Hentrich, kicker Al Del Greco, and their teammates helped residents clean up. In addition Hentrich and Del Greco have created a "fine fund," which they donate to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Red Cross. In St. Louis Red Cross disaster relief benefits from Kevin Carter and D'Marco Farr's Coat and Blanket Blitx.

Starting Charity at the Top

The players aren't the only ones who get in on the charity act. Philanthropy starts at the top for both the Titans and the Rams. The Tennessee Titans Foundation, established in August 1999 by Titans owner K. S. "Bud" Adams, Jr. and his wife, Nancy, has donated exercise equipment to five Nashville-area schools. Head coach Jeff Fisher and the Titans assistant coaches ran a free football clinic for more than 200 high school football coaches.

St. Louis head coach Dick Vermeil supports Ronald McDonald House, Boys Scouts of America, the United Way, and the Mary Campbell Center of Delaware. Team owners Georgia Frontiere and Stan Kroenke have created the St. Louis Rams Foundation, which contributes to youth organizations in the St. Louis area, particularly those that focus on education, literacy, health, and recreation. Frontiere and Kroenke have committed the Rams Foundation to donating $250,000 per year for four years.

Front-office support for philanthropy doesn't end with team foundations, however. The Rams organization matched the players' Thanksgiving food basket collection, enabling the St. Louis Urban League to provide Thanksgiving meals to 864 families. The Rams have allied with the Junior League of St. Louis to support the Race for the Cure for breast cancer. Some 75 percent of the money raised stays in St. Louis; the remaining 25 percent goes to the National Grant Program of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

To help the Red Cross replenish blood supplies in the Tennessee Valley region, the Titans awarded two Super Bowl tickets to a blood donor who gave between January 22 and January 27. The lucky winner's name was drawn on January 28. At the beginning of the 1999 season, the Titans supported area blood drives by giving donors tickets to tour the team's new stadium. The organization also donated 3,500 preseason tickets to local middle schools to reward students who had done well.

This spring Habitat for Humanity will benefit from the generosity of the Titans and the Kroger grocery store chain. The Titans organization is matching Kroger's gift—$100 for every quarterback sack the Titans defense makes—to the nonprofit. Together the gifts will be enough for Habitat to build one home. The team has also supported the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, W. O. Smith School of Music, Salvation Army, Nashville Symphony, United Way, Nashville Ballet, and the Our Kids Program of the Junior League of Nashville.

The St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans make an impact on and off the gridiron. From the front office to the sidelines to the playing field, the Titans and the Rams are some kind of philanthropists.

 suzanne-coffman-150x150.jpgThe preceding post is by Suzanne Coffman, GuideStar’s editorial director. See more of Suzanne’s sector findings and musings on philanthropy here on our blog. 

Topics: Nonprofits Philanthropy