Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #180

Sept. 6 – Sept. 12, 2015

Welcome to week one hundred eighty of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:

  1. Before Superstardom, Williams Sisters Stunned On Compton’s Courts
  2. Ex-rugby star Hayne makes 49ers’ 53-man roster
  3. LeBron James Expands Educational Program to Help Akron, Ohio, Adults Obtain GED Diplomas
  4. From ‘Katrina Kid’ To Nebraska Quarterback: Tommy Armstrong Beats The Odds
  5. Ronda Rousey Spreads Word On Apraxia After Overcoming Speech Disorder As Kid
  6. Andy Dalton helping children and their families cope during trying times
  7. How A Single Quarter Changed Evander Holyfield’s Life
  8. Andrew Luck: The Casual, Confident, Comfortable New Face of the NFL
  9. Rehab, Degree, Playoffs. Two Down, One to Go.
  10. Football: PSG become latest club to offer refugee aid

One of the most interesting things to learn about an athlete is where he or she first started playing the sport for which they are now so well regarded. What got them interested in the sport? What drove them in those first few years when they were maybe not so good at the sport? Often times the answers are ones that amaze and inspire us. They entail telling us about how athletes may have overcome limited resources, family challenges, external limitations and the lack of predictability of both sport and life. What it also tells us that where we are from, nor our early circumstances need determine definitively where we end up in life. The stories this week speak to that truth.

The first story featured takes a look at two of the greatest female athletes of all-time, sisters Venus and Serena Williams and their start in tennis in a place not known for producing wondrous talent in that sport. We also have a story of Jarryd Hayne, an athlete whose first success was in rugby but who gave that up to challenge himself in an unfamiliar sport at its highest level, i.e. in the NFL. There is the story of LeBron James giving adults, no matter their initial circumstances, a chance to direct their lives down a positive path by furthering their education. We have the story of Tommy Armstrong, one of many amateur and professional athletes whose lives were impacted 10 years ago by Hurricane Katrina, and his fight to succeed. There is the story of champion Ronda Rousey serving as a role model for a young girl with a speech disorder and fellow pugilist Evander Holyfield talking about how his direction in life was changed by a single quarter. Our last few stories include the story of quarterback Andy Dalton supporting families during trying times in their life, giving them hope that they too can persevere, a look at another star quarterback, this time Andrew Luck, and his rise from youth to the “face of the NFL”, the efforts of young MLB pitcher Marcus Stroman to recover from major injury to get back to his parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the financial and resource commitment being made by some of the world’s biggest and most influential soccer clubs in support of refugees whose lives are threatened in the most serious way so that too can have a chance to live a life with hope and promise.

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Before Superstardom, Williams Sisters Stunned On Compton’s Courts
Next door, Maria Gomez leans up against her blue pickup truck. She’s lived in this house since 1974, so she knew the Williams family. She says she remembers Venus and Serena running around the house and playing in the tiny backyard next door. The girls cut their teeth on courts around Compton. And to this day, the Williams sisters are a source of pride in the city. “To be able to say that they’re from the town that you grew up in — who wouldn’t be inspired by them?” says Janna Zurita, a Compton councilwoman. She was born and raised in Compton, and says she used to watch the Williams sisters train. “A lot of the little kids here in the community, they look up to them and they think they’re great. I mean, they’re two beautiful women that changed the whole life of tennis,” Zurita says. “And they’re straight outta Compton.” Some of the places where they’d practice were in rough neighborhoods, like East Rancho Dominguez Park, formerly known as East Compton Park. Today, the courts are repaved and there’s a new recreation center — but that’s not how it used to be.

Sisters Serena, left, and Venus Williams shake hands after a match in 1991 in Compton, Calif. Paul Harris/Getty Images

Ex-rugby star Hayne makes 49ers’ 53-man roster
Jarryd Hayne joined the San Francisco 49ers this past spring with a daunting task of making the transition from rugby league star back home in Australia to NFL newcomer across the world. The 27-year-old rookie return man made good on his goal nearly a year after leaving his old sport to chase an American football dream, and his quest captivated a country more than 7,000 miles away. Hayne said Saturday on Twitter he made the cut with the 49ers, earning a spot on their 53-man roster as coach Jim Tomsula finalized his team heading into the regular season. The roster was announced by the 49ers on Saturday. “IT ALWAYS WORKS OUT! I thank GOD for WHAT HE has done and going to do on this incredible journey!! I’m on the 53 MAN ROSTER FOR THE (hash)49ers,” Hayne wrote on Twitter to his 153,000 followers.

(photo, Hayne)  Caption: Hayne impressed coaches with his play in the preseason. Ezra Shaw

LeBron James Expands Educational Program to Help Akron, Ohio, Adults Obtain GED Diplomas
Well, now James is making sure he helps those who may be the parents of some of those kids receiving the free college education. According to, as part of a partnership with Project Learn of Summit County, which helps adults get their GED certificates, parents of the children enrolled in the LeBron James Family Foundation’s scholastic-mentorship program can get financial and emotional support to obtain high school equivalency credentials and learn other life skills. Adults in the program will receive an inspirational letter from James, Hewlett-Packard laptops they can keep if they finish the classes, and free bus passes and parking to attend class. “We are so excited about the I Promise, Too program because a huge part of our foundation’s work [with children] centers around parent involvement,” Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, said in a news release. “This is an opportunity to help our parents make strides in their own academic careers so they are better equipped to help our students keep their educational promises. We can’t reach our students without their parents’ support, so this program is monumental for our families and their futures.”

LeBron James. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

From ‘Katrina Kid’ To Nebraska Quarterback: Tommy Armstrong Beats The Odds
The children who faced Katrina’s worst educational and sociological effects were disproportionately poor and minority students, the study found. Though its research was limited to Mississippi, schools in Louisiana have faced even harsher problems — in 2006, 20 percent of displaced students were not enrolled or missed school regularly. Those problems still linger: No state in America has more people between the ages 16 and 24 who are neither working nor enrolled in school. It is likely, Ward said, that some of the same problems his team found in Mississippi plagued displaced students in Texas and other states too. Armstrong was remarkably lucky. He knows he faced an “easier transition” than many of his fellow students. He knew the San Antonio area from spending summers with his father there as a child, and living with Tommy Sr. and mentoring his younger brother grounded him in his new home in San Antonio. He missed his mother, but they made a promise to talk at least once a week to keep Nadine up on his schoolwork, his friends, his life — and his football, too.

Gregory Shamus via Getty Images

Ronda Rousey Spreads Word On Apraxia After Overcoming Speech Disorder As Kid
Ronda Rousey has talked in the past about a speech impediment she struggled with as a youth. But to one mother, the description of Rousey’s experience was distinct — and rare. Laura Smith soon theorized that Rousey dealt with the same condition as her daughter — apraxia of speech, which is characterized by the brain’s inability to control the motor functions of certain parts of the body — in this case, the muscle groups that affect speech. Smith eventually learned about an opportunity to meet Rousey. She went to Rousey’s book signing in Denver. When her turn came to get Rousey to sign a copy, Smith asked the UFC champ: Did you have apraxia? As Smith details to TheMighty, Rousey looked stunned — but then admitted that, yes, doctors had told her that was the likely condition.

Andy Dalton helping children and their families cope during trying times
At that particular moment, their focus was on the random big kid with bright red hair who had quietly tiptoed into their circle, waiting to be the goose who chased another kid around it. “I can tell you every parent knew who he was and they had their cameras out and were pointing and laughing and smiling. Some of them had tears in their eyes. They will never forget that moment,” said Ria Davidson, co-founder of the Dragonfly Foundation, a Cincinnati-based group that specializes in providing children who have pediatric cancers and their families opportunities to be distracted from the daily toll the diseases can take. With September being Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, the group has an important couple of weeks ahead. “A year from now, five years from now, they will say a Bengal — not just any Bengal, Andy Dalton — took the time to make them smile and really made them feel like a king for a day,” Davidson said… The Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation’s mission has been to bring happiness to families with children who have serious medical conditions. Their outreach includes events like the 250-person “King for a Day” initiative at Kings Island and the “Date Night” program that allows parents to drop off their kids for a night of games and activities while the parents partake in an all-expenses-paid private dinner date. For the Daltons, the goal is to provide families like the Fleckingers with positive distractions.

Andy Dalton and his foundation made a big impact on the Fleckinger family from Kentucky and many others. Courtesy of the Fleckingers

How A Single Quarter Changed Evander Holyfield’s Life
What do you mean by “it just took one quarter”?
I didn’t have the money [to be a member]. If I would’ve went home, I wouldn’t have gone back to the Boys Club. It gave me the opportunity and something my mother couldn’t give me. If my mother had money, she would’ve sent me there with money, but didn’t have any money. If it wasn’t for that quarter that Ms. Hawkins gave me, I would’ve gone home by myself and not wanted to go back anymore. It gave me an opportunity to see that life could be different than the community I lived in.
So without the 25 cents this woman named Ms. Hawkins gave to you, you wouldn’t have had the money to go back?
It was a quarter for one whole year [of membership]. I was 8 years old at the time and Ms. Hawkins had to be in her 50s. She did a great thing. She worked the front desk at the club. Her husband Jimbo worked at the Boys Club too. He was a good athlete and coached everything. It just shows you that you have people at the Boys Club who care about kids. I was a kid that needed care at the time and I was able to receive it.

Evander Holyfield

Andrew Luck: The Casual, Confident, Comfortable New Face of the NFL
Across the league, it’s taken as an article of faith that Luck will one day soon surpass Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to become the game’s marquee quarterback—perhaps as early as February in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California. “There is nothing Andrew can’t do on the football field,” said one longtime NFL scout. “He can make every throw, especially the finesse passes. He’s as accurate as anyone. He can buy time with his feet and always keeps his eyes downfield. He’s entering his fourth year now, which means he’s just scratching his prime. If he doesn’t get hurt, he’ll be scary good this year. I mean, he’ll be the best in the game.” To understand Luck’s unique approach to life—and why he’s poised to become the new face of America’s most popular sport—you need to visit the downtown Indianapolis office of the NCAA’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs. The silver-haired, professorial man behind the desk holds the clues to figuring out Andrew Luck. This man knows him well: Andrew is his son.

Associated Press

Rehab, Degree, Playoffs. Two Down, One to Go.
But Stroman is on the verge of returning less than six months after surgery on his right knee, which absorbs his weight when he lands after every pitch. It is an admirable comeback made more so by what he did along the way. Stroman made good on his goal, completing his Duke education by taking five courses as he recovered in Durham, N.C. “I’ve never wanted to be one-dimensional,” Stroman said. “If baseball’s not there for me, I want to be able to do well for myself. Obviously, having an education is extremely important in society as far as being able to go further. I never want to have to say that baseball is Marcus. I don’t want baseball to define me.” Stroman had prepared for this. College players are eligible for the draft in their junior season, so he crammed three and a half years’ worth of courses into his first three years at Duke. Stroman reasoned that he would be much more likely to finish his degree if he were so close to completing it. In his Florida hospital room, Stroman said, he imagined the drudgery of rehabilitation: up early for physical therapy — and then what? He wanted to stay busy, and even with an aggressive recovery schedule, he could still have time to finish his degree. He invited Bahnsen to join him at Duke, for friendship and support, and signed up for classes.

Marcus Stroman in spring training this year. Last season, he went 11-6 with a 3.65 E.R.A. for the Blue Jays. Credit Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Football: PSG become latest club to offer refugee aid
French champions Paris Saint-Germain will donate one million euros ($1.12m) to two associations, through their foundation, put into place to help the influx of refugees across Europe, the club announced on Wednesday. The Foundation will commit to long term assistance alongside French Popular Relief and the UNHCR with the goal of creating solidarity projects in France and internationally, » said the club in a statement. The Foundation will transfer one million euros to these organisations that will be funded by club revenue. The announcement on Wednesday follows a series of donations and projects put into place by top clubs around the world such as Real Madrid, Roma and Bayern Munich after the arrival of thousands of refugees, many from war-ravaged Syria, into Europe over the past weeks. Following Roma’s gesture to donate 575,000 euros as well as jerseys worn by stars Francesco Totti, Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic to the newly-launched « Football Cares » auction site, the European Association of football clubs (ECA) announced a generous plan involving teams playing in the Champions League and Europa League. Clubs have committed to giving one euro per ticket sold in their first continental matches this season, the ECA announced. All 80 clubs have committed to the initiative with the money — estimated between 2-3 million euros going into a fund created by the ECA.

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