Thursday, December 11, 2008

Athlete Actions On and Off the Field

In today’s society, communities need aspirations of hope for better times and role models with authority that are willing to make an impact on the world. Sports provide a sense of unity and have this power. Athletes have the choice to become catalysts for the positive and powerful sport and social change movement that is currently on the rise. There has been an array of community outreach programs devised for all levels of athletes, ranging from high school student athletes to professionals.

Sport in Society recognizes that everyone is a role model. High school students, despite their youth, are also admired by others. Community involvement activities performed by high school student athletes can be just as effective and valuable as those being executed by professional athletes. Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky has made athlete community service a priority for a number of years, “it is just expected” said boys' soccer coach Todd Bretz. A few of the teams projects that were achieved were: answering phones at the muscular dystrophy telethon, building houses for Habitat for Humanity and assisting in organizing and working dances for students with disabilities who might not get to go to prom.

College athletes’ participation in service activities are commonly seen and mandated more so than in high school athletics. For the majority of universities, there is some type of community service requirement for each varsity club administered by the athletic department. There are currently many programs that work to place athletes in local communities.

The NCAA CHAMPS/Life Skills Program “was created to support student-athlete development initiatives of NCAA member institutions and to enhance the quality of the student-athlete experience within the context of higher education.” An example of the various affairs that have taken place under CHAMPS/Life Skills: Stevens Institute of Technology teams participating in the Light the Night Walk to support Leukemia and Lymphoma and University of Miami teams donating toiletries and shoes to homeless shelters. They also have activities during the holiday season; putting together full Thanksgiving dinners along with a poster of the team for needy families and adopting elementary schools. Athletes from various teams go to the schools and have the Pre-K and kindergarten children make candy cane mice and reindeer, along with Christmas cards to help them to read and spell.

Professional league's have a social responsibility, to which initiatives are developed in helping various areas of society. The NBA generated an organization dedicated to addressing social responsibility by assisting in important social issues in the United States and around the world, NBA Cares. Education, youth and family development and health-related causes are the main areas of interest. Teams and players have committed to donating $100 million to charity, providing a million hours of hands on service to the community and creating 250 places where kids and families can live, learn or play through NBA Cares.

Professional sports leagues’ administers strongly suggest their athletes to participate in one outreach program or another, not only for the athlete’s reputation, but also for that of the team and league as a whole. One of the many professional athlete social service organizations is Athletes for Hope. They work to “educate, encourage and assist athletes in their efforts to contribute to community and charitable causes, to increase public awareness of those efforts, and to inspire others to do the same.” Some examples of the work that is being done through Athletes for Hope are: The Tony Hawk Foundation hosted a one-day action-sports carnival included games, activities, a special acoustic performance that raised over $1 million for public skate park development and Alonzo Mourning Charities Inc. accommodated his 8th annual “33 Thanksgivings” to more than 500 deserving south Florida families to receive Thanksgiving meals.

The need for philanthropic role models is everlasting. There is such a gap between the rich and the poor, with the latter’s numbers continually increasing which generates more needs in society. The community service benefits both parties involved. Obviously the receiver is in need and athlete is filling that void, but the athlete also gains the satisfaction and good feeling of helping someone. The service activities also expose a sense of reality for the athlete, in that they are role models and their actions are always under scrutinizing surveillance, as a result athletes may choose to alter their behaviors.

It is not difficult to assess whether or not there could be more athletes contributing their time and efforts toward a good cause. Although there is already so much enthusiasm and phenomenal athletes in service initiatives in the works, there can never be too many offerings to help those in need.