I’ve always believed one of the things that differentiates St. Louis from other sports markets is how much we love our athletes.
Sure, like other cities, we root for the laundry, but when athletes leave here and return…guys like Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, David Freese, Brett Hull and Jim Edmonds…they’re treated like royalty. Not only are they treated well, but they treat us incredibly well, too.
For many of the complaints about the bad that sports has to offer, what I see is great.
I had the pleasure of being a part of the Pujols Family Foundation’s Celebrity Basketball game on Sunday, and was struck during the day as to how fortunate the St. Louis community is to have so many athletes that don’t play for our teams any more that are part of the charitable landscape.
Pujols left the Cardinals for the Angels after the 2011 season, but he’s always said “Anaheim is where I work. St. Louis is where my family is, where I live.” While he does great charitable things in California, having taken his foundation there, too…what he does here as a former Cardinal is remarkable. Pujols and his wife Deidre have a child with Down syndrome, and the basketball game allows kids to practice and play in a basketball game with pro and former pro athletes, against the Missouri Baptist basketball team, and before a big crowd.
As it says on their website, “We did not choose Down syndrome. Down syndrome chose us.” Since this is so close to their hearts, their foundation is dedicated to the love, care and development of people with Down syndrome and their families. Their goal is to promote awareness, provide hope and create supportive and memorable events for the families and children who live with Down syndrome.
In addition to the basketball game, through the foundation people afflicted with Down syndrome have the opportunity to take financial literacy classes, cooking classes, and self-defense classes. Kids also have the chance to learn cheerleading, martial arts and to take advantage of music therapy. Pujols funds a prom for the kids in the fall and has them participate in his golf tournament and an All-Star softball game during the summer.
But it’s not just Pujols. Last week, Matt Holliday was back in town. He formed Homers for Health back in 2012, and in six seasons the program has raised over $4 million for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Holliday told Martin Kilcoyne of Fox 2 that “whenever you can get the fan base in St. Louis involved with a charity to where they can tie it together with kids, and a hospital that is doing great things for families and kids, I’m humble and grateful, but I’m not surprised.” Last year, Cardinal Glennon named a wing of the Children’s Hospital after Holliday, sealing his legacy as a philanthropist in St. Louis. “You don’t do it for the legacy or the notoriety, you do it for the kids. You want to use your platform for good,” he said. But he clearly developed a tie with the community that remains strong even though he no longer plays for the Cardinals.
There’s more from the Cardinals. Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith is the President of the Board of Directors for PGA Reach, which benefits at risk youth and veterans. Not only does PGA Reach donate funds to scholarship programs for kids, but it has partnered with Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Urban K-life, Hope Education and Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Louis to raise school attendance, performance and graduation rates in north St. Louis. Ozzie is one of the big reasons the PGA of America chose St. Louis as the site of the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in August.
Former St. Louis Rams Chris Long, Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce also continue to do wonderful things in our area.
Long just completed a season long campaign at Pledgeit.org, in which he raised more than $731,000 to provide better education for underprivileged kids in the area. College Bound and The Little Bit Foundation will split the money raised by Long, and he will personally donate $50,000 to the cause beyond his game checks for the 2017 season. Long played every game for the Eagles, and did so for free. He donated all of his salary to charity, much of it in St. Louis. In addition to his educational initiatives, Long has contributed huge sums to St. Patrick Center, which provides food, shelter and job skills to homeless people in our area.
Warner, of course, hasn’t been a St. Louis athlete since 2003. Yet, each year his First Things First Foundation collects coats for people that need them during Warner’s Warmup in St. Louis. Warner’s foundation also provides Homes for the Holidays, giving a furnished home to an underprivileged single parent family, and gives trips to area kids with life threatening illnesses, and their families, to Walt Disney World in Orlando. Of course, Kurt and Brenda Warner make the trip and provide great memories for those families.
Isaac Bruce and his foundation provide numerous benefits to the area. Each year his foundation holds a free football camp for young players in St. Louis. Isaac also provides scholarships for area kids, and is involved with Ready Readers, a non-profit that helps teach pre-school aged children from impoverished areas how to read. In 2016, Bruce’s foundation made a $50,000 commitment to the St. Louis Public Schools to provide new, relevant, high-interest literature to the libraries in the St. Louis Public schools.
Of course, the Blues Alumni have done immeasurable great deeds over the years. Bruce Affleck, Blake Dunlop, Terry Yake, Reed Low, Larry Patey, Kelly Chase, Brett Hull and more regularly make appearances to enhance youth hockey in St. Louis. Back in 2014, the group participated in the Blues 14 Fund ‘Rink of Dreams’ as it was officially unveiled at Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club. In their thirty years of existence, the Blues Alumni Association has raised over $750,000 for amateur hockey and over $5 million for charities in the St. Louis Area.
Last year, Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill donated $10,000 to the Tom Lombardo chapter of the National Football Foundation to provide scholarships to high school players in St. Louis. Dan Dierdorf and Chris Pronger host a golf tournament to benefit Cardinal Glennon each year, while Joe Buck’s golf tournament helps Children’s Hospital, and his Celebrity Feud benefits KidSmart.
It’s not just the pro teams. Former SLU basketball player Larry Hughes has provided great resources to the community, while Chaminade grad Bradley Beal of the Wizards teaches at his summer basketball camp.
We hear a lot about the negative aspects of sports, but the positives FAR outweigh the negatives. The only real galvanizing force in America right now is sports and we’re lucky enough to see it every day, if not from our current players, then our guys here in St. Louis.