pro athletes helping with Haiti crisis

27 01 2010

I just heard of a great story that happened shortly after the earthquake in Haiti.  Instead of paraphrasing, I’ll quote from the source.  This is from Jon Wertheim’s tennis mailbag at the Sports Illustrated website.  It shows what athletes and celebrities can accomplish if they will put forth the effort.

Isn’t it surprising, Jon? Roger Federer only came up with the “Hit for Haiti” idea on Saturday morning. Television only advertised it on Saturday afternoon and evening, and the papers the next morning. I was there and we had a great time. It is quite astounding that they were able to organize it in one day — and good on people for coming. Laver was full capacity and it still surprises me, even with the realization that Down Under is a sports-mad society. Props for Tennis Australia, players and fans. A chunk of change was donated, too.
— Deepak, Melbourne

Before we can get caught up in match results and general tennis theater from Melbourne, let’s take a moment to reflect on Hit for Haiti, an exhibition held at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday. Thanks to tennis’ modest stature, the time difference, the NFL playoffs, Gilbert Arenas, etc. this didn’t get nearly enough attention, at least in the U.S. But here we are, only two weeks into the season, and already, this is on my short list for Sports Story of the Year.

The Cliffs notes version: Federer sees the Haiti disaster on the news. “Let’s do something.” He fires off texts to players from Rafael Nadal to Andy Roddick to Novak Djokovic to Serena Williams. Tennis Australia makes the court available for an impromptu benefit on Sunday — the day before a Grand Slam begins. Jim Courier agrees to be chair umpire. Through a quick publicity blast — thanks, technology! — a capacity crowd pays $10 to watch. There is no corporate sponsor or tie-in. This is not the “foundation benefit,” whereby you pay your buddies an appearance, hold a lavish party and give the “proceeds” to charity. This was not some slickly packaged event run by a management agency. The alphabet soup of agencies didn’t get involved and make sure no one logos were bigger than the other and their name came first on the self-congratulatory press release. Mary Carillo used the word “organic.”

Also note the cause here: There are no Haitian players on tour, no event in Haiti, no Haitian sponsor, no ulterior motive. This is simply: Something horrible happened on the other side of the world, we recognize that and we want to use our platform to help. And note which players showed. Next time you rip “ill-tempered Serena” or “selfish Djokovic,” keep this event in mind.

Just a great day for the sport, a great showing from the top players starting with Federer, a great indication of what can happens when tennis cuts through the in-fighting and everyone works for a greater cause. At the risk of getting carried away, events like this ought to convince the players that, when they work together, they have the power, the leverage and capacity to cut through the tennis clutter and take charge.

That makes me feel good inside.  Here are famous athletes who take the time for a worthy cause.  They didn’t get paid for it, and it surely interrupted their normal training and preparation before a Grand Slam event.  Fans gladly paid $10 each to watch this (and I would’ve, too), and it sold out.  The seating capacity there is 16,820, so that’s quite a bit of money raised in a short time.

If only other celebrities / athletes would do stuff like this!  I’m sure some do, but I don’t hear about much.  All they have to do is make themselves available for some entertainment for a few hours and they can raise thousands of dollars for a charitable cause.  It was also quite generous of the stadium to open a day early, which surely meant a lot more cleaning and preparation before one of the year’s biggest tournaments.

FYI, the YouTube link was broken in the article when I read it, so if it still is, here’s the link: Hit for Haiti.

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