Mike Babcock, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has been using his notoriety in Canada to bring awareness to the issue of mental illness. After having lost two friends in the same summer as a result of mental illness, Babcock knew he needed to learn more about the problem and how he could help. He has since become a mental health ambassador in the NHL and beyond.
In a sport where grit and toughness are necessities, Babcock wants his players and others to know that mental toughness has nothing to do with mental health. Babcock admits that prior to the deaths of his friends, he had not seen mental illness as a prevalent issue because he had not known what to look for. Now he is more educated and has made it his mission to share that knowledge with others. His first bit of advice? Check what is happening in your own family. Are you giving your family members the space to be vulnerable and communicate when they are having problems? Talking through issues is not a sign of weakness, and the more we talk to one another, the more aware we will be.
In November, Babcock teamed up with Babsocks and Movember in an initiative called Ahead of the Game to raise funds for mental health awareness.
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We've all heard the old adage "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets rookie, put that very philosophy into practice this holiday season. Rather than serving a Thanksgiving meal or handing out free food items, Allen decided on a different approach to giving back this November. He took twenty-five eighth graders to a local grocery store, and gave them each $70 to plan Thanksgiving dinner. Allen also equipped them with calculators to help with their math and budgeting during the shopping trip.
It's a small lesson, but financial literacy can have long term impact on a child and his or her family. Allen recognizes that economic hardship can set young people back very early in life, and he wanted to use his Thanksgiving outreach to teach fundamental skills that children can carry with them as they get older. Allen also wanted to impress upon them that their parents work hard and sacrifice to prepare for the holidays, so they should always be grateful for what they have, no matter their situation. At nineteen, Allen is eager to teach these young adults the same lessons he's been learning as a rookie away from home for the first time in his life - independence and gratitude.
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NIKE believes in the power of sport to unleash human potential
Maya Moore has teamed up with an elected prosecutor, Mark Dupree, and justice system expert, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, to educate the public on the pitfalls of our current criminal justice system. Their goal: the redefine how prosecutors, and the public, view justice. For far too long, prosecutors' success has been judged by their tally of convictions rather than their ability to build safer, healthier communities. The reality is, there are human lives attached to every case that comes before the court. Yet, the lives of those being prosecuted are rarely taken into consideration. The result has been punishments that do not fit the crimes, swift and wrongful convictions, and mass incarceration instead of medical treatment.
Moore began this journey after learning of Jonathan Irons' story from her godparents. At sixteen years old, Irons was picked up for a burglary charge to which he pleaded not guilty. He was convicted and sentenced to sixty-five years in prison. Moore's family has been working for two decades to exonerate Irons, and recently, Moore has stepped up and stepped out to advocate for sweeping criminal justice reform.
Moore's recent advocacy work has been quiet but courageous. As she has solidified her place on the court, she has started to leverage her platform as a WNBA superstar to bring awareness to Irons' plight and others like him. Her first objective is to educate the public on who we are electing as prosecutors and what kind of approach they take to justice. The mission is to elect leaders who "promote fairness, equity, and sensible approaches to justice system engagement." Moore is one of several professional athletes who have taken on criminal justice reform as part of the larger dialogue around racial inequality in the United States, and while her work has not been lauded as much as some of her male counterparts, she is making great impact in her hometown and beyond.
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to unleash human potential
This past weekend, the NFL finished its second iteration of My Cause My Cleats. For a league that had been dubbed the “No Fun League,” the loosening of its rules for My Cause My Cleats in 2016 was seen as a big deal. Not only did the league loosen its cleat rules for a game, but the league empowered players to raise money and awareness for causes important to each person. It was a rousing success, as fans connected with players on an individual level and the media was able to highlight and bring awareness to causes that have touched its players. For a league long known as protecting the shield, for one week, the players were able to show off their individuality.
Throughout the entire week, fans were given an inside view of what each player was raising awareness for. Teams created unboxing videos of their participating players to distribute the content to fans. Players were vocal about their support during press conferences and to the media. The program has quickly become an important staple within the league’s community calendar. As simple as it sounds, the league has helped elevate the initiative by creating a specific website (inserted link) where fans can not only read quotes and see the cleats, but they can learn more about these causes.
These stories are supported via social and digital channels and then the cleats are auctioned off to raise money for each individual charity. The next step in the movement is to expand the program from one week to one month. Since the league has monthly initiatives, the NFL should designate one month such as December as a month for the players to lead the way. If you couple this with the league’s landmark partnership to give $89 million to social justice issues, this would be a logical next step to allow players to show off their personality and make My Cause My Cleats a permanent fixture within the NFL.
At the end of November, the NFL and a group of players agreed to partner on a plan to address social justice issues, with the league contributing $89 million over seven years to projects dealing with criminal justice reform, law enforcement, community relations and education. The agreement calls for national funds to be allocated accordingly: 25% to the United Negro College Fund; 25% to Dream Corps and 50% to the Players Coalition.
This plan surpasses the NFL’s contributions to Salute to Service or Breast Cancer Awareness, but it will not replace these causes. On paper, it’s a great pledge extended from the league. They had no responsibility to make donations to social justice issues – if the players had wanted, they could have used their time and money to raise awareness and funds for causes near and dear to them. The agreement does not include language calling for players to end protests during the national anthem in exchange for funds. However, the NFL hopes this olive branch will end the peaceful protests.
When you dig a bit deeper into the numbers, there is some skepticism by players. Essentially, each owner is willing to give roughly $400,000 per year over the course of the plan to make the national anthem protests go away. Considering the NFL ratings are down and advertisers are threating to pull out, this seems like a no-brainer for owners. Players have taken notice and many have pulled out of the Players Coalition because they don’t feel like the owners are doing enough. As a result, some of the most prominent members such as Eric Reid, Michael Thomas and Russell Okung have left the coalition because they had a different vision for how to work with the league.
Okung told Pro Football Talk, “I think you’ve got to keep in mind who started this whole thing, who sort of put himself on the line,” Okung said. “There’s definitely some respect there. I believe this is the same league who has effectively blackballed him. So when you’re dealing with a certain group of people, this entity as a league — you try to keep in mind, is this a reparation, or just $89 million? Reparation extends beyond just dollars and cents, in real change in policy and lobbying. I think that should be more at the forefront of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
On paper, this agreement should be celebrated. Only few people know if this is truly a landmark moment for players and owners to come together to make a difference or if it’s more of a ploy to end the protests to keep advertisers happy, and ultimately, increase revenues for the league. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but for a league that is always focused on the bottom line, I tend to believe this is more a financial decision more than anything else. Rather than this being an “either-or” situation, I’d like to see the league still allow players to protest and use their given platform in a positive way.
NIKE believes in the power of sport to unleash human potential