NFL players provide plenty of entertainment on the field, and sometimes even off it (such as antics from the likes of Chad Ochocinco), which makes sports so much fun to watch. What I truly admire though is when an athlete volunteers to give back to the community out of the genuine generosity of his heart. That's why I was so proud when I heard what Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Johnson were creating.
Inspired by his own childhood living in a household where his mother worked three jobs just to sustain a decent lifestyle, Marshawn Lynch wanted to give back to the community. In an effort to do so, he and his cousin Josh Johnson decided to launch a foundation which would aim to uplift and empower underprivileged children by instilling the principles of leadership and education. As a result, Fam 1st Family Foundation was born.
"We realized the opportunity that we had as pro athletes that walk the same streets as these kids and their parents and we had to do something. We want to focus our attention to helping make these kids better students, better athletes and better people," Johnson said.
The announcement of the new foundation happened Thursday where family and friends gathered to celebrate at the EPIC Roasthouse restaurant in San Francisco. It had a very elegant yet inviting feel to it, which made it the perfect environment for such a special occasion.
And special it was indeed.
A young high school student named Willie T. Anderson was actually the spotlight of the entire afternoon as he is the first official recipient of the foundation. He was a former star running back for California High School but unfortunately suffered a severe injury that prematurely ended his once-promising career. Especially in a town where as he described "if you're not playing (foot)ball, you're not doing much," it was difficult to deal with.
That's where the foundation came in.
One day his former coach came in to Willie's room and saw a life-sized poster of Lynch on his wall. He got in touch with Lorie Forthman, who has been Lynch's financial adviser, supporter and friend ever since he was drafted into the NFL in 2007, simply asking for an autograph. She explained the situation and asked Lynch if he could personally call Willie. Lynch immediately dropped everything he was doing in order to do so.
"That's the compassionate, selfless, humble, caring Marshawn that I know which is what motivated him to start this foundation," Forthman said.
Afterward, Willie Anderson showed tremendous gratitude for what Lynch had done for him and said he had been shown the light after being caught up in depression.
"Football felt like my life and since I couldn't play anymore it seemed that I didn't have a life. Felt like I wasn't really anybody," Anderson said. "Having your idol call you at your lowest point helped me understand that football is just a part of my life; it's not my life. I don't need football and there's a lot of things I can do with my life. I want to thank the foundation for helping me realize that."
The foundation is a great avenue to help kids in need. Anderson was awarded a $500 scholarship to the college of his choice, but more importantly, he has the guidance of a true friend like Marshawn Lynch.
Lori Puccinelli Stern was in charge of putting the event together and did a fabulous job, ensuring everyone felt welcome and was catered to.
There was heavy press coverage including major news outlets such as ABC, NBC and the San Francisco Chronicle. For an aspiring sports journalist like myself, who's done several interviews but none to this magnitude, it was certainly a rewarding experience.
Speaking to Marshawn Lynch and Josh Johnson was an honor. To be honest, I went in not knowing what to expect, especially with Lynch's flashy on camera persona. But after sitting down and speaking with both him and Johnson, I could tell they were very down-to-earth people with a genuine interest in helping others.
Also, it was fantastic getting to meet and interview other athletes such as Justin Forsett. Lynch's counterpart in the Seahawks backfield, rookies Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints and Taiwan Jones of the Oakland Raiders, as well as retired quarterback Steve Bono who spent 15 years with seven different teams in the league, his most notable being with the San Francisco 49ers backing up Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Everyone had interesting comments to make especially when I asked each about what their reaction would be if the lockout had just been lifted. Nearly all said they would be excited and ready to get back to work, my favorite was probably Lynch's amusing answer of "To be honest, I'd leave this interview." No offense taken there, I know you can't wait to get back to Beast Mode.
If you're interested in helping Marshawn Lynch and Josh Johnson's foundation, please visit their website. Any time or funds you can donate are greatly appreciated.