As we get into the full swing of fall, it felt like an important time to reflect on all that I’ve learned this year and the people I’ve been lucky enough to learn them from. One of the discussions that has stuck with me most over the past few months occurred when I moderated the Athlete Activism: Why Does it Matter? panel as part of Tackle What’s Next’s Athlete Impact Summit in July.
As the Director of our Athletes for Hope University program, and as someone who has worked with athletes of all levels via our mental health and advocacy work, I am fortunate to connect with athletes every single day and witness the tremendous impact they are able to make on their communities. What I reflect on about this panel was hearing first-hand from former professional athletes Toney Sanneh and Chris Dickerson on how they are continuing to make positive changes in the world after retiring and how Lyzz Ogunwo is helping professional basketball players do the exact same across the globe. Their stories and examples inspire me to help others do the same.
I enjoyed our conversation as it helped me think about athlete advocacy from both an athlete and a charity perspective. “Why is it important for athletes to become advocates for causes they care about?” “What can that do personally to an athlete who finds themselves passionate about a specific cause yet keep being told to ‘shut up and dribble’?” I appreciated the diversity in feedback from each panelist who came to this conversation with a unique background, sport and interest. It offered me the chance to think about all of our athletes who may lead from various positions on a team yet have an enormous opportunity outside of sport to lead in communities.
All in all, our conversation underlined the importance of helping athletes understand their potential to give back to their communities and to make a positive difference in the world. Any athlete, of any level, can make an impact and the world. Time is just as valuable as money. This core belief is what drives us every day at Athletes for Hope and it is empowering to see it brought to life through the work of organizations like The Sanneh Foundation, Players for the Planet and the NBPA Foundation.
Please take the time learn a little bit about each organization and find opportunities to support their collective work. We know we’re excited to help support their work in any way we can.
And of course, a special thank you to Danielle Berman and the Tackle What’s Next team for putting on this incredible summit. Be sure to check out other events they have coming up here.
The famous basketball coach Phil Jackson once said, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” At Athletes for Hope, our team is strong because of people like our Director of Athletes for Hope University, Suzanne Potts. Suzanne comes to us with extensive nonprofit experience and an intense love for all things data. We sat down with Suzanne to ask her what drives her in her day to day work at AFH and what excites her most about the future of the organization.
What is your role at AFH?
My role at AFH is as the Director for Athletes for Hope University and I also manage all the Measurement and Evaluation (M&E) for the organization. As AFH U Director, I get to educate and connect with thousands of student-athletes from various university partners across the country. We educate hundreds of new student-athletes each year and have thousands engaged in service in their community. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in service hours, athlete engagement, and positive news stories about student-athletes with more focused evaluation techniques and outreach. I enjoy seeing our AFH team dig deeper into analyzing our impact, looking at how we collect, analyze and share our data with stakeholders. I truly think we’ve become a data-driven organization that focuses on evidence-based approaches to our work, and it’s exciting to see this evolution as a small nonprofit.
What has been your favorite AFH moment?
My favorite AFH moment has been coming out and visiting with AFH U student-athletes on their campus and facilitating our workshops with them. They have such enthusiasm, optimism and wonderful ideas on how they can best serve their community. I love hearing their discussions when we debate our “Agree/Disagree/Unsure” activity about athlete obligation to serve and am always so inspired by their dedication to academics, their respective sports and then adding service to others in their lives. Student-athletes are the best role models for young kids and communities as they are excelling on and off the field, and they have a huge opportunity to motivate others to lead positive, healthy lifestyles.
What makes AFH unique?
I believe what makes us unique is our ability to connect athletes to service and convene groups of athletes to causes that they may not have previously engaged with. We have such a broad network of partners and communities and paired with our over 5000 athletes who have done educational workshops with us we can really fill a huge gap for communities. I love that we help athletes individually or as teams identify and discover their passions, and then actually connect them with opportunities in those areas. It’s so awesome when you get to see these athletes do a school or hospital visit and see firsthand the impact they had just by spending an hour or so with others in need.
What excites you about the future?
I get excited to see how many more opportunities our student-athletes will have to engage in service both during school and post-graduation. We’re working to establish a really robust program that will support their service needs for more than just during their time on campus. We’re establishing life-long philanthropists with these student-athletes, and I hope to see long term outcomes with them engaged in service well after they step off the playing field. We’re just getting started to see what student-athletes can do in service for others, and our Alumni program and longer-term LinkedIn Group provide some ongoing support for those who want to continue on as AFH Athletes post-graduation. I am excited to do more Alumni Service projects on campus or bring back student-athletes to their universities to share their service experience with a new batch of student-athletes!