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Athletes Pursuing Philanthropy

“Las Vegas has been a wonderful place for my wife and I to raise our family. We feel very fortunate to be in a position to give back and assist those in need. Serving strengthens our community, it brings people together and has a positive, lasting impact on the city as a whole.”

Deryk Engelland, Vegas Golden Knights

 

By Aleza Freeman

Brandon Marshall didn’t have many positive male role models while he was growing up in North Las Vegas. When he was 10, his father was arrested for domestic violence against his mom. The horrifying abuse led her to flee home with the kids and seek shelter in a local safe house.

Today, the Denver Broncos linebacker and Superbowl champion is a testament to the power of perseverance. His story of success proves that no matter your lot in life, you don’t have to be a product of your circumstances.

For the past three summers, Marshall has returned to Las Vegas to run a free football and respect camp for youth. “I really had nobody to look up to and I guess it kind of motivated me to be that for someone else,” explains the National Football League (NFL) pro. “I wanted to give the kids something to look forward to and let them know they can be whatever they decide to be, whatever they believe they can be, and whatever they put effort into.”

Like any professional athlete who goes from rags to riches in almost an instant, Marshall could have easily chosen to play, collect his paycheck, and avoid the limelight. Instead, he took the path of other inspirational athletes like legendary basketball player LeBron James and local tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, using his fame and fortune for the good of his hometown community.

As Las Vegas grows into a full-fledged sports town and more athletes begin to call it home, the philanthropic influence of professional sports teams and athletes is expected to become more widespread.

Both the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Vegas Golden Knights and the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Las Vegas Aces have foundations in place to support the community through local charities.

The Vegas Golden Knights Foundation’s biggest initiative so far was a $1 million donation to the Friends of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in support of a new training facility; a direct response to the tragic Oct. 1 shooting.

“When we first pledged money…we started to see an outpouring of support…for the victims,” says John Coogan, president of the foundation. “The question became, how do we take our money and…prevent such tragedies in the future.”

Golden Knights athletes, such as longtime Las Vegas local Deryk Engelland, are heavily involved with the foundation, volunteering at local charities and visiting schools to read to and interact with students.

“At the end of the day, if the teams aren’t getting involved in true giving, are we really connecting at the level that we need to with fans?” asks Coogan.

Under the auspices of the international MGM Resorts Foundation, individual players from the Las Vegas Aces do local charity work for causes they care about. Center Carolyn Swords and guard Kayla McBride both enjoy cooking, so through the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth they helped cook dinner to feed homeless young people. Guard Moriah Jefferson is a dog lover who is passionate about animals, so she volunteered with a local animal shelter.

“All of our players are incredibly committed to the community…and want to make a difference,” says Autumn Spicer, community relations manager for the Las Vegas Aces.

Even the Oakland Raiders (soon to be the Las Vegas Raiders) are already showing community spirit, visiting students at local Gene Ward Elementary and hosting a clinic for high school coaches. The team’s inaugural “Celebrity Swing” fundraiser at Topgolf Las Vegas raised six figures for Veterans Village Las Vegas.

The local United Soccer League team, the Las Vegas Lights FC, donates a portion of each ticket sale to participating local charitable causes through its $5 Kickback Program.

Former University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) football player Joe Haro first became involved with charity work when visiting hospitals and reading to students at underprivileged Southern Nevada schools as part of the college athletic department.

“It really opened my eyes,” recalls Haro, who now serves as president of the UNLV Football Foundation. “You could make a little, but important, impact on people who were more in need than you were. I thought, ‘one day I’m going to do something so that I can really give back.’”

Since fewer than 1 percent of college football players make it to the NFL, Haro credits the UNLV Football Foundation for providing him and his colleagues with the tools and guidance to succeed on the field, in the classroom and, most importantly, after graduation.

“A lot of the kids that I played with came from some really impoverished areas, from South Central in L.A. and…some really tough places, where they didn’t have anything,” he says. “[UNLV] gave them a chance to have a really successful life. That’s what college does.”

He believes that the town’s growing arsenal of professional athletes will have a unique ability to make a lasting difference for the Las Vegas community. But for Marshall it’s more than an ability, it’s a personal responsibility.Born with a passion for football, his mother told him that as a young boy he would often sleep with his older brother’s football pads.

Once he was old enough to play, his innate love for football opened doors and changed his life. He graduated from University of Nevada, Reno and was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012. In 2013, he was signed to the Broncos and currently has a four-year, $32 million contract.

“I was able to retire my mom and I was able to do things I never thought I’d be able to do,” says Marshall of his professional football career. “It got me to the point where I’m absolutely self-sufficient and I’m someone that people look up to, especially the youth.”

Also known for standing up to social and racial injustice by taking a knee (and later staying off the sidelines) during the National Anthem before NFL games, Marshall motivates Nevada and Colorado youth through his Williams-Marshall Cares Program. The foundation encourages boys and girls, ages 14 to 18, to be responsible leaders, to perform acts of service, and to dedicate themselves to education.

His summer camp at Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas attracts kids from a variety of different backgrounds, all with one common goal. “They want to be successful,” says Marshall, “but they don’t necessarily know how, or they might not necessarily know what to do, who to seek and who to be around.”

Marshall introduces campers to a variety of different celebrities and professionals, including his Broncos teammates and his mother, Barbara. Along with the fundamentals of football, the camp focuses on building positive interpersonal relationships. Attendees learn tips for conflict-resolution and Barbara Marshall covers the ins and outs of domestic violence.

“It’s a topic that hit home with us, my mother and my brother,” says the linebacker. “She is very passionate about it and so am I. People in families die because of domestic violence and it happens around the world, so it’s something we need to talk about.”

As for achieving success, Marshall tells his campers that the key is who you surround yourself with.

“Who you hang out with will have a positive or negative impact on you,” he explains. “A lot of times, kids get caught up in the wrong thing because of who they hang around. Instead, they could hang out with someone who is motivated and finds positive things to do, and it motivates them to do that, too.”

Marshall is grateful that he’s able to be one of those motivators.

“That’s really all I wanted out of life,” he admits. “It’s been a blessing.”

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