Images from Haiti have pervaded the media and blogosphere over the past week and a half, with scenes of disaster ever-present on the American consciousness. Donations and relief aid have come from all parts of our society. With the disaster seemingly in a place so far removed from the realities of American life, however, it can be easy to forget that, for many, there is a personal connection to be had. In a celebrity-obsessed culture, it is both understandable and refreshing that many of those leading the efforts to drive the crisis home to the average American are athletes.
United States national soccer team striker Jozy Altidore is at the forefront of fundraising and publicity efforts, appearing on Larry King Live to raise money for the American Red Cross. He has even gone so far as to take a leave of absence from his club team in England to assist with the relief efforts in Haiti to try and find more than a dozen of his family members who are unaccounted for.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver, Pierre Garcon, who like Altidore, is the son of Haitian immigrants, has been giving autographed items to fans who donate money to relief efforts, raising $10,000 within 48 hours of the initial earthquake.
Samuel Dalembert, of the Philadelphia 76ers, has spoken of the horrors of seeing his childhood Port-au-Prince neighborhood reduced to rubble, and the fear of being unable to contact many of his relatives still living in Haiti. In an interview with ESPN, Dalembert said, “I’m looking at the TV right now, you know, trying to think what could I have done if it were me in the situation? And there’s nothing really I could have done.”
Dalembert has also teamed up with former basketball all-star Alonzo Mourning to help Haitian children reach their adopted families in the United States, efforts that were disrupted by the earthquake. WSVN in Miami told the story of the two basketball stars going to Haiti to assist a 7-year old orphan with his travel to his new adoptive father in America, the culmination of a four-year long process. Mourning described conditions in the country as, “an inhumane atmosphere where we can only pray and do the best we can to assist those individuals.”
Even those not directly affected by the tragedy have contributed to relief efforts throughout the nation. The New York Yankees, often maligned as the “Evil Empire,” have donated half a million dollars to various relief organizations. The equally reviled Tiger Woods has been rumored to be making a $3 million donation to relief efforts. Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade has paired up with Mourning to create the “Athletes Relief Fund for Haiti,” which has already raised millions with donations from LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Michael Vick and others from all across the athletic world.
These efforts are not merely limited to the United States. Portuguese football club S.L. Benfica are hosting an exhibition match between a team of Benfica All-Stars and a team with soccer legends Kaka and Zidane, with all proceeds headed directly to relief efforts in the island nation.
In a time when athletes are often criticized for not living up to their forced status as role models, it is amazing to see the athletic community rally together and use both their celebrity and wealth for the most worthy of causes. While Haiti is certainly in trouble, and will take a long time to restore itself, the efforts of these athletes will go a long way towards the recovery of the beautiful Caribbean nation.