MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota- When the NFL gives out the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award at the end of this season, Larry Fitzgerald deserves to be on the short list of finalists.
The annual award is given out to players who excel not just on the gridiron, but in charity and philanthropy. Through the “Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund,” Fitzgerald combats hunger, poverty, and limited access to education through significant financial donations and timely fundraising. Fitzgerald’s charitable ventures here in the U.S. are well documented. However, his dedication to supporting international development is equally impressive.
In 2012, Fitzgerald visited Ethiopia as part of an Oxfam America initiative to build wells and sustainable farmland. Alongside his former teammate with the Arizona Cardinals (now a San Francisco 49er) Anquan Boldin, Fitzgerald learned about the devastating impact drought has on a community. He also learned the incredible resolve many Ethiopians had in the face of a crisis.
“We’ve met women and men who struggle to feed their families everyday,” says Fitzgerald about his time in Ethiopia. “And we’ve seen the amazing things these people are doing to make great changes in their lives.”
According to Oxfam, Fitzgerald and Boldin’s visit generated “tens of thousands of dollars for the relief effort [in Ethiopia], as well as much needed publicity for the work being done by Oxfam partners on the ground.” Their good work shows how fighting on the front line for global development is just as tough and inspiring as battling a shutdown cornerback in a big game.
Inspired by Fitzgerald’s trip to Ethiopia, in March, Fitzgerald invited Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White to join he and Boldin for another Oxfam America trip to Africa. This time, the trip was to Senegal.
Working with local farmers, Fitzgerald and his fellow players learned about the daily struggle to find and transport water in order to grow crops that provide both food and an essential source of income. They also discovered how large mining companies have exploited local labor and the landscape.
Fitzgerald has documented his experiences of the trip on his official website, along with many inspiring and hopeful photos and videos. Following the completion of their time in Senegal, Fitzgerald, Boldin, and White have begun a fundraising campaign as “Athletes for Oxfam.” The campaign seeks to build upon their experiences in Ethiopia and Senegal and raise money to continue to support development across the globe.
In the midst of the unsettling Richie Incognito bullying scandal, it is important to pay attention to an athlete like Larry Fitzgerald. The NFL would do well to recognize one of the sport’s most charitable voices.
– Taylor Diamond
Sources: Oxfam, Athletes for Oxfam, Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund, NFL
Photo: The Columbian