Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #213

May 1 – May 7, 2016

Welcome to week two hundred and thirteen of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:

  1. New York Met Michael Conforto’s mom set gold standard in athletic family
  2. BMW unveils carbon-fiber chair for Rio Paralympians
  3. Cliff Avril, Marshawn Lynch and Other NFL Players in Haiti to Help Improve Lives of Children
  4. Football team made up of organ transplant recipients play first ever match of its kind
  5. Monica Abbott Scores Biggest Deal In The History Of U.S. Women’s Sports
  6. Tamika Catchings: In Good Hands (The Players Tribune)
  7. Beach Volleyball Rises in Shifting Sands of College Sports
  8. Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’ ambitions extend beyond game
  9. Neutrogena and Major League Soccer Team Up to Raise Awareness and Beat Skin Cancer
  10. Juan Mata was candid enough to admit his wage was ‘obscene’… the thinking man in Manchester United’s midfield is as eloquent off the pitch as he is on it

IJF refugee camp project featured in #JudoForTheWorld
Building a foundation of fun
The 2016 Laureus World Sports Awards Showcase Sport for Good in Berlin            Olympics: Qatar hopes to take more female athletes to Rio

We lead off this week with a story about Major League Baseball player Michael Conforto and his relationship with his Olympic gold-medal winning mom, Tracie. In a family with other accomplished athletes, Conforto discovered it was his mom who had the greatest story. But what Conforto most appreciated about his mom’s unconditional support was her understanding of the pressure that athletes often have to perform under. To have that special connection from a very young age was key to Michael’s development as an athlete and person. And it is this type of bond between athletes that we saw in a number of stories this week.

The other stories we are happy to feature this week include: BMW’s advances in the design and creation of a performance chair for the upcoming Paralympic Games; a trip by a number of NFL players to Haiti to help support the country’s ongoing recovery efforts; a group of transplant recipients who took a major step in their lives by joining together in a football game to celebrate their recoveries and to tout the importance of organ donation; a potentially groundbreaking contract for professional softball player Monica Abbott; a first-person account from super athlete-humanitarian Tamika Catchings of the WNBA; the emergence of beach volleyball as a varsity sport at the college level in the U.S.; the encouraging story of U.S. women’s soccer team and NWSL goalie Ashlyn  Harris; a great partnership between Neutrogena and Major League Soccer to raise awareness and beat skin cancer; and an interview with Manchester United star Juan Mata, who was just named the first global ambassador for the soccer non-profit streetfootballworld, a charity organisation that uses football to tackle social issues around the globe.

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So enjoy. And have a good week.

New York Met Michael Conforto’s mom set gold standard in athletic family
A child’s curiosity can uncover much in life. Mets outfielder Michael Conforto’s mother, Tracie Conforto, never crowed about her athletic accomplishments when her children were young. But there were a great many of them, and by the time Michael Conforto reached grade school, his friends were asking questions. Conforto searched for answers. One day, Tracie — a double gold medalist in synchronized swimming at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and a silver medalist four years later in Seoul — brought some of her medals to a show-and-tell session at Conforto’s school. As he grew older, Conforto recalls falling down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos, watching his mother swim. “There was a sense of pride that came with who my parents were and what they had done athletically,” Conforto said.…That Tracie is visiting her son this weekend in San Diego — overlapping Mother’s Day, of all days — seems apt. The two remain close in adulthood, mother often texting son nuggets of advice or inspiration: “You look fierce up there,” or, “You look intelligent.” “Because she understands,” Conforto said. “She knows. I think she kind of sees herself in me a little bit.”

BMW unveils carbon-fiber chair for Rio Paralympians
The Designworks team made 3-D images of select athletes’ chairs and used those as its baseline. Aluminum was replaced with carbon fiber. The cockpit was made more aerodynamic by customizing the seat “bucket” for a better, tighter fit. The steering was redesigned to make it more responsive. Designworks also took each athlete’s favorite “gloves” — often made of hard putty, they look like pistol grips and help absorb shock from hitting the wheel hundreds of times during a race — and did 3-D scans of them. After cleaning up the surfaces, they produced new ones with a 3-D printer. “Not only did we manage to get gloves that fit them perfectly and worked great for them, we managed to reduce the weight of them so it’s less mass they have to carry around on their hands,” Cracchiola said. “These athletes are already incredible athletes,” he added. “What we’re looking to do is give them equipment that rises up to the level of their own talent and really optimizes the efficiency of their performance. So their power and athleticism is transmitted into efficiency and speed.”

BMW has designed aerodynamically efficient, carbon-fiber racing wheelchairs for U.S. athletes competing at the Rio Paralympics. (Photo: BMW)

Cliff Avril, Marshawn Lynch and Other NFL Players in Haiti to Help Improve Lives of Children
When he was young, Cliff Avril would visit Haiti to see his grandmother every summer. But after his grandmother died from complications of diabetes, and with life getting in the way—college, his NFL career, children, etc.—the Seahawks defensive end hadn’t been back to his parents’ home country in more than a decade. On Wednesday, however, Avril, Marshawn Lynch and other NFL players flew to Port-au-Prince, Haiti where they will help rebuild an elementary school, host a mobile medical clinic and also a football camp in a trip coordinated through Free the Children. Part of the reason Avril decided to head back to Haiti this offseason is that his father, Jean Samuel, passed away last spring. “He wanted me to go back and do some things to help,” Avril said of his father, who emigrated from Haiti in 1982, four years before Avril was born. But more than anything, Avril just decided the time was right to give back to a country in need that holds a special place in his heart. Avril grew up seeing his parents work long hours and multiple jobs to provide for him opportunities they didn’t have in Haiti. That instilled in him a work ethic that helped him become a starter on one of the NFL’s best defenses, a job that allows him to provide for his family in ways his parents could not, but Avril also wants his two sons to know their heritage while also understanding the importance of giving back.

God’s Plan Orphanage Port-au-Prince Haiti @cliffavril and Marshawn @beastmode Lynch. #Humbling#LifeChanging#TravelLife#AvrilHaiti2016

Football team made up of organ transplant recipients play first ever match of its kind
The captain of the Transplant Sport team was Simon Keith, 50, who became the first footballer to play professionally after a heart transplant. His donor was a 17-year-old boy from Newport. He said: “To be a recipient there are no words to talk about the gratitude you feel towards a donor and the donor’s family who make heroic decisions from tragic circumstances. “If we can help raise awareness of organ donation that will be something. To try to help people like Rhys [Thomas] who is in the middle of a battle right now. It’s tough being on that waiting list.” Mr. Keith runs his own foundation called the Simon Keith Foundation which helps support children who have had transplants to get active and healthy. He said: “We’re hoping to play matches in different cities around the world but it all started here in Newport. It had to take place here.” Former Gwent Dragon and Wales rugby international Rhys Thomas was supporting the Transplant Sport team and is currently on the waiting list for a heart transplant. He said: “Raising awareness of organ donation is so important. I’ve seen people die because they haven’t receive an organ in time.” Abbott Scores Biggest Deal in the History of U.S. Women’s Sports
In the United States, opportunities for female athletes with professional sports franchises are limited and generally low-paying. Over four decades after Title IX empowered female athletes, women’s professional sports leagues in the U.S. (notably the WNBA and NWSL) don’t have anywhere close to the spending power of the NBA, NFL or MLB. That makes it difficult for girls to aspire to be professional athletes in popular team sports. But one women’s league, National Pro Fastpitch, just carved out the most lucrative contract ever given to an active female athlete by a U.S. pro sports franchise, according to espnW. National Pro Fastpitch’s newest expansion team, the Houston-based Scrap Yard Dawgs, signed Monica Abbott, 30, to a $1 million, six-year contract this week. It’s the first $1 million contract for the NPF, a softball league that begins its 50-game schedule this month for the 13th season… And for that, she’s now been rewarded with a contract that, relatively speaking, resembles what the sport’s No. 1 athlete deserves. The contract’s written in a tricky way, but its structure could provide a blueprint for how female athletes in other American professional leagues can earn even more money.

Another pitch, another likely strikeout. Miami Herald via Getty Images

Tamika Catchings: In Good Hands (The Players Tribune)
My dad made the game so much fun, though. Those Sunday nights were why I fell in love with the game. Eventually, I was playing on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays … every single day. Basketball became my sanctuary. My safe haven. I was born with a moderate to severe hearing impairment that affected and still affects both of my ears. With the hearing impairment came a speech impediment, hearing aids and a lot of hard times growing up. It was hard to be “normal” while so many things were different about me. Kids would tease me about my awkward hearing aids, my speech problems and for just being different. I would always try to make myself as invisible as I possibly could. The court, though, that was my place of refuge where nobody could tease me. My mom and dad knew when I wasn’t at home they could find me there. Thirty years later, and I still feel the same way.

Photograph by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Beach Volleyball Rises in Shifting Sands of College Sports
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for football,” she said, “and I think it’s important that every female on this team knows that.” Beach volleyball — which had been an “emerging sport,” an N.C.A.A. category for gestating women’s sports — is almost laboratory-created for athletic departments looking to balance their gender-equity numbers. As Kathy DeBoer, executive director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, which used to run the national tournament, explained in an email, it is well known and popular; it is relatively inexpensive to add, particularly for colleges that begin with so-called crossover players already on scholarship for court volleyball; and it has existing advocates with know-how, namely court volleyball coaches. “It’s a great way to add a women’s program and be able to phase it in, because it’s very cost-efficient,” said Cheryl Levick, the former Georgia State athletic director who presided over the additions of football and beach volleyball. Cobb said that even with six scholarships, which can be subdivided among more than six athletes, the annual cost of beach volleyball at Georgia State was less than $500,000.

Sara Olivova, a beach volleyball player, hitting at a Georgia State practice this month. Credit Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times

Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’ ambitions extend beyond game
It takes only a quick look and a five-minute conversation to know life has thrown a lot of challenges at Harris and she’s more than capable of handling them. Her bleached hair seems to get whiter every week, she has a full sleeve of tattoos on her left arm and nearly every sentence she speaks could be clipped and hung on the wall of someone looking for inspirational quotes. She’s 30 years old, an elite athlete and works extensively with the nonprofit organization To Write Love on her Arms, which aids people struggling with addiction and depression. But, it’s not hard to see in her the young girl who idolized Tony Hawk and is described in her U.S. Soccer bio as a rule-breaker who always tried to prove she was tough enough to hang with the boys but once smacked a bully across the face with a catfish carcass she found on the beach for calling her a boy. “I don’t believe in luck,” Harris said. “I don’t believe in being in the right place at the right time. I’ve failed a lot in my career. My path might not be the same as everyone else’s, but I had to find a way. It’s not by chance, it’s not by coincidence, it’s because I work hard for it . . . and I have to continue that to be successful.”… “Of course, I have aspirations to play in World Cup, and Olympics, and be a starter, but,” she paused, “I want a family, a healthy family. I want to be a successful human being. I want to be a good mother, a good partner. Soccer — I’m an adult playing a kid’s game. Every day my job is a game, and who I am outside of that is much more important than who I am in between the pipes.”

Orlando goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris makes a save during the Pride’s win over the Houston Dash. (Stephen M. Dowell / Orlando Sentinel)

Neutrogena and Major League Soccer Team Up to Raise Awareness and Beat Skin Cancer
In many instances, MLS players, coaches, referees and fans spend 90 minutes in direct sunlight during each game, adding up to an approximate 27,000 hours of direct exposure per season, making skin cancer awareness a critical issue to promote. To help raise awareness, the partnership will prominently feature the color orange across the league and promote the Choose Skin Health campaign in-stadium during the entire month of May. Official MLS match balls will have a unique Choose Skin Health decal, players will be provided with orange Choose Skin Health sweatbands and Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport sunscreen to wear on-field and MLS ball kids will be outfitted in campaign t-shirts. Fans will learn more about the campaign, risks of skin cancer, and ways to prevent it through special LED boards and a rally video played in-stadium and online. “The fight against cancer is something that we at Major League Soccer have had a long-standing commitment towards,” said Kathy Carter, President, Soccer United Marketing. “Having a partner like Neutrogena® that is as committed in this fight is exciting, and we look to forward to making an even greater collective impact through the Choose Skin Health campaign.”

Juan Mata was candid enough to admit his wage was ‘obscene’… the thinking man in Manchester United’s midfield is as eloquent off the pitch as he is on it
Mata is a deep thinker. An eloquent individual, as artistic off the pitch as on it. So has he been surprised by the reaction to his views on the money mad world of football? ‘I didn’t say what I did to get a reaction,’ says Mata, a £37.1million signing for United from Chelsea in 2014. ‘I was asked about football and life, and I tried to give my opinion. ‘I understand football. I love the sport, I love my life and I love to play football. ‘Footballers are human beings. Everyone has a different personality, and each of us has our own opinion. ‘I don’t know if I’m average or not, I just have to be myself. Maybe the reaction was because it was a bit different.’ Mata’s birthday was on Thursday when he was presented with a cake at United’s Carrington training ground before going out with his team-mates and their partners for dinner in Manchester. A slightly reluctant senior player now a new generation is emerging at Old Trafford, he still believes he has much to offer in a career that has made him a World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain. ‘Hopefully, yes,’ he says. ‘Between 27 and 30, it should be a very good moment in your career talking about experience and the games that you’ve played. ‘I have been lucky enough to have no serious injuries, touch wood. Hopefully I have a lot of football to give and enjoy, and my best years are still to come.

Juan Mata is the first global ambassador for StreetFootballWorld, a charity organisation that uses football to tackle social issues around the globe.

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