afh staff opinion Archives - Athletes for Hope

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A Note from Jason Belinkie, AFH CEO

A Note from Jason Belinkie, AFH CEO

This note was originally shared in the December edition of AFH’s Pass the Passion newsletter. Not subscribed? Sign up here.

One Word to Describe 2022: Gratitude

It is hard to believe that 2022 is coming to a close and the 16th year of Athletes for Hope is now behind us. As I reflect on these milestones, I keep coming back to one word: gratitude.

Our athletes are the heartbeat of Athletes for Hope, and we are a stronger organization today than ever before because of them. A vision that once began with 12 Founding Athletes has now grown to a network of thousands of professional, Olympic, Paralympic and collegiate athletes across nearly every sport who dedicate themselves each day to help those in need around the world. It is their selflessness and willingness to give back that makes what we do possible.

We also wouldn’t be where we are without our best-in-class partners such as Deloitte, Clorox, ESPN, Under Armour, WETA, Arizona Community Foundation, the Gordon and Llura Gund 1993 Foundation, the Pennington Family Foundation and countless others. Their support, along with the many community leaders and nonprofit organizations who have joined forces with us, allows us to educate, connect and empower athletes to make a difference in their communities.

I am also incredibly grateful for our staff, Board of Directors and Advisory Board whose commitment to Athletes for Hope has afforded us the opportunity to make a global impact and helps us in our continued growth. To be able to bookend the year with the promotion of two long-time staff members to C-suite positions, Chris Wyttenbach in January 2022 and Suzanne Potts just a few weeks ago, is something that we celebrate and reinforces our organization’s growth mindset.

Lastly, those who have supported me during my first year as CEO have my endless gratitude. To my family, friends and mentors, I appreciate the support, guidance and belief in the future of this organization more than you know.

On behalf of all of us at Athletes for Hope, we offer our gratitude, best wishes and happiness to you and your families. Be on the lookout for our 2022 Annual Report coming in January for a full picture of what we accomplished this past year. Together, we have achieved so much, but our work is far from done.

Here’s to 2023 and beyond!

Jason Belinkie's written signature.

Jason Belinke

Athletes for Hope CEO

AFH Newsroom

Athletes Making Their Voices Heard in a Time of Crisis

by Chris Wyttenbach, AFH Chief Program Officer

What do you stand for? Taking action by standing up for what you believe takes courage. Everyday we have countless opportunities to align one’s beliefs with one’s actions. “I watch what I do, to see what I believe” sounds easy, but it’s not always that straightforward. In some cases unknown consequences lie for those who try to do what’s right. These individuals inspire some, it can challenge others and such actions may come with risk. 

As the war in Ukraine rages on, there have been countless stories of duty, courage, and sacrifice. We pay special attention to the athletes who are standing up for what they believe to be right. Perhaps that’s simply part of an athlete’s DNA? Athletes aren’t deterred by the challenging path before them. They consistently have to choose the hard path to succeed. So  when it’s time to align one’s beliefs with one’s actions, they do it. 

Athletes from around the world decided to stand up for what they thought was right, and use their platform to make their voices heard. The Poland, Czech, and Swedish national soccer teams refused to play Russia in the World Cup qualifiers. These qualifiers are crucial to making the World Cup, but they risked their soccer dreams to condemn the war. The governing body responded by offering to play the game at a neutral team name under a different name, but that wasn’t enough for these teams. They refused to play, and forced FIFA to expel Russia from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.  

Star player Robert Lewandowski had this to say, “It’s the right decision. I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues. Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”

Russian tennis player Andrey Rublev used his platform and called for peace by signing “No war in Ukraine” after winning a match at the Dubai Tennis Championship. “In these moments, you realize that my match is not important. It’s not about my match, how it affects me. What’s happening is much more terrible,” Rublev commented. Despite the potential for a harsh punishment for his statement, Rublev used his platform to share what he thought the world needed to hear. 

And, perhaps the greatest example is a trio of Ukrainian boxers who have joined the military to fight the Russian invasion. Current world champion Oleksandr Usyk, and brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko at one point returned to Ukraine to fight for their country. Via their social media platforms, they have shared their harrowing stories and brought attention to the Ukrainian resistance. 

Today athletes are continuing the trend of athlete activism set in motion years ago by AFH Founding Member Muhammad Ali. Ali was one of the first athletes to risk it all for what he thought was right by refusing to fight in the Vietnam war.  Ali paid dearly as he was banned from boxing for 3 of his prime fighting years. The war in Ukraine has forced athletes to risk the comforts that their sports have brought them for something greater. Let us stand in solidarity with them, as they stand for what is just in our world. 

AFH Newsroom

Inspired by a Sheet of Paper: Reflecting on the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl

by Kylie Reeves, AFH Staff

Sitting in my hotel room around 10pm last Saturday night in Mobile, Alabama, I turned off SportsCenter (this Carolina fan couldn’t watch any more highlights from their game against Duke) and started to go through some very important sheets of paper. A day before, Ivan Blumberg, our CEO Emeritus, facilitated our Empowerment workshop for almost 100 football players participating in the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl, most of whom – if not all – will be drafted into the NFL in April. It was my job to go through the forms the players filled out to see which causes interest them and ways we can help support their philanthropic efforts.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was expecting. I suppose I figured that these guys filled the form out around 6:55am (our workshop started at 7am) so I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t put much thought into it. I suppose I also thought that after multiple days of practices led by the Jets and Lions coaching staffs that emulated the grind of the NFL, maybe their minds were elsewhere. They’d also been meeting with coaching staffs and scouts from around the league so, again, it would have been totally fair for them to blow off the form, sit through an hour of our workshop, and be on their way. But that is not what happened.

As I went through the forms, I saw that many of them were very specific in the causes they cared most about. Many of the guys filled in other causes that weren’t even on the list. Almost all of the players read the paragraph we had on the form describing Project Play’s Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports and when we asked if they wanted to put their name behind it, over 50 said “yes.” Over 50! Barely anyone said no, the rest of the guys simply wanted more information. It’s not that I was surprised by what I found when going through the forms, it was more so that I knew how much these players had on their plate and yet they still were finding ways to help the world outside of the game of football. It was inspiring. It is inspiring.

That moment, late on Saturday night, was a wonderful reminder of why I love our work at AFH so much. To be able to witness football players on the brink of their professional careers with the world as they know it about to change, (as Myjai Sanders told me in the hotel lobby, “This was the last time we get to play a game with our college helmets on. The next game we play will be in the NFL. That’s crazy.”) be so engaged in a discussion about how to use their platforms to make the world a better place and then show – literally on paper – how they want to do it is really just the coolest.

It’s also a huge testament to the Senior Bowl leadership, Jim Nagy and Lauren Taylor Fleming, for making this type of education part of the week’s experience for these players. It’s very cool and I feel lucky to be part of it.

I can’t wait to see the journeys these players embark on, both on and off the field, and I’m so excited to be able to work with them and share their inspiring stories with the world.