By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
The following press release was issued to announce that WWE performer Titus O’Neil is a finalist for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award.
The seventh annual Sports Humanitarian Awards is a celebration of the impact made by athletes, teams and sports industry professionals who are using sports to make a difference in their communities and throughout the world. This year, the Sports Humanitarian Awards will take place on Monday, July 12 at The Rooftop at Pier 17, located within the Seaport in New York City, with a 90-minute television special airing on Saturday, July 24 at 2 p.m. ET on ABC. The Awards will be hosted by actor and author Taye Diggs, and will feature a performance by Grammy-nominated Cordae, as part of The Undefeated’s Liberated / Music For The Movement Volume 3.
“This past year was unlike any other, and the sports world met the ongoing challenges head on, responding to the vast needs of our communities, while providing hope and inspiration to millions,” said Kevin Martinez, vice president of ESPN Corporate Citizenship. “ESPN and The Walt Disney Company are incredibly proud to recognize these changemakers through this inspiring evening of storytelling.”
This year’s nominees include (see below for descriptions on each award and finalist):
- Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award presented by Dove Men+Care finalists: Anthony Rizzo (Chicago Cubs), Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (Kansas City Chiefs), Layshia Clarendon (Minnesota Lynx), Titus O’Neil (WWE)
- Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year finalists: Atlanta Dream (WNBA), Denver Broncos (NFL), New York City FC (MLS), Toronto Blue Jays (MLB)
- Corporate Community Impact Award finalists: AT&T, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
New this year, the Sports Humanitarian Awards will introduce Marvel’s Earth’s Mightiest Athletes, a collective of inspiring athletes that mirror Marvel heroes with their extraordinary abilities on the field, and their commitment to making a positive impact off of it. Not only do these honorees reflect the values of Muhammad Ali’s sports humanitarian shown in this year’s awards, but each has delivered for the community in a way that’s aligned with the super-powered spirit of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Additionally, honorees of the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award, Sports Philanthropist of the Year, League Humanitarian Leadership Award and the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Awards, sponsored by Bristol Myers Squibb, will be announced on July 12.
The Awards will once again benefit the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund at the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Additionally, ESPN will donate more than $1 million in charitable contributions on behalf of the award nominees and honorees. To date, $12 million has been donated to the community on behalf of the Sports Humanitarian Awards.
Multiple sports leagues and/or governing bodies including MLB, MLS, NBA, WNBA, NFL, NHL, PGA TOUR, UFC, USTA and WWE are sponsors of this year’s Sports Humanitarian Awards and have nominated athletes, teams and corporations who are transforming lives and uplifting communities.
The finalists and winners have been determined by an independent selection committee, which includes: Akilah Carter-Francique, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change and Associate Professor in African American Studies at San José State University; Adam Fraser, Chief Executive of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation; Nick Keller, Founder and President of Beyond Sport; Donald Lassere, Chicago History Museum President and former CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center; Joanne Pasternack, President and Chief Impact Officer of Oliver+Rose and Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Athletes’ Voices; Sab Singh, Founder of Sports Doing Good and Professor of Sport Management at Farmingdale State College; Caryl Stern, Executive Director of the Walton Family Foundation; and Eli Wolff, Director of the Power of Sport Lab.
Below are the award descriptions, as well as details about the nominees and honorees for the 2021 Sports Humanitarian Awards.
MUHAMMAD ALI SPORTS HUMANITARIAN AWARD presented by Dove Men+Care
The Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award is given to an athlete whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a measured positive impact on their community through sports. The candidate must embrace the core principles that Muhammad Ali embodied so well, including confidence, conviction, dedication, giving and respect. The winner will be able to direct a $100,000 grant from ESPN to the qualified charity related to the award-winning humanitarian efforts. The finalists will be able to direct a $25,000 grant to the charity related to their award-winning efforts.
The winner will be announced during The 2021 ESPYS on Saturday, July 10. All finalists will be featured during the Sports Humanitarian Awards.
At the age of 18, Anthony Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He quickly realized that an individual does not battle cancer alone, but rather the whole family fights it together. Just four years after his diagnosis he established the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation (ARFF) to provide critical dollars to support pediatric cancer families. ARFF provides resources to organizations that offer comfort and care to children and their families as they cope with cancer as well as providing direct monetary grants to pay everyday household expenses. Since its inception ARFF has raised more than $13 million. The Chicago Cubs World Series champion launched ARFF’s Hope 44 to connect social workers and grant dollars to families battling cancer to alleviate the financial stress from a child’s cancer treatments. His foundation also supports two oncology child-life specialists through ARFF’s Child Life Fund to reduce anxiety and normalize the hospital experience for both patients and their families. In line with his giving spirit, when the world shut down due to COVID-19, Rizzo mailed 250 care packages with PPE supplies to pediatric cancer patients and their families, donated more than 25,000 masks and delivered more than 10,000 meals to front line workers.
Less than three months after winning Super Bowl LIV, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — the Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Lineman who also is a Medical School Graduate — began fighting COVID-19 on the front lines at a long-term care facility in Quebec, Canada. His conviction to combat a virus the world knew very little about at the onset of the pandemic risked his own personal health and football career. Duvernay-Tardif was the first NFL player to opt out of playing in the 2020 season due to COVID-19, and did so to follow a calling to help medical professionals and give an extra hand to help care for some of the most vulnerable. He worked for eight months as an orderly and properly administered appropriate drug dosages, fed, washed and dressed each patient. The offensive lineman also served on the NFLPA’s COVID-19 task force, where he helped examine different scenarios for the safest measures to put in place when football games returned. Along with playing football and working in healthcare, the Super Bowl Champion created the Laurent Duvernay-Tardif Foundation with his longtime girlfriend, Florence, to ensure both physical activity and creativity are a part of a child’s development and educational success.
Amidst many state legislations recently being enacted to eliminate the rights of transgender athletes and children, WNBA player Layshia Clarendon courageously announced last fall they are transgender, becoming the first openly transgender and non-binary athlete to compete in the WNBA, as well as the first WNBA athlete to complete a top surgery as an active player. Clarendon’s dedication to advocating for LGBTQIA2+ athletes at every level of play, is shifting the conversation around trans and non-binary athletes, with the hope that one day no member of their community will be discriminated against or kept from sports due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. As the first Vice President of the WNBPA and a founding member of the WNBA’s Social Justice Council, Clarendon is at the forefront of the league’s ground breaking social justice efforts and is tasked with engaging community conversations, advocacy and education on important topics surrounding social justice. They also partnered with grassroots organizations to create strategic messaging to build awareness around Breonna Taylor’s death, police brutality and social injustices, while working with WNBA players to uplift the Say Her Name campaign to fight for visibility and justice for Black women lost to violence and police brutality.
WWE Global Ambassador Titus O’Neil is a positive force as a father, philanthropist and champion of good. A product of sexual assault, O’Neil grew up in poverty, was bullied by others, constantly in trouble for fighting and labeled a “bad kid.” Because of the people who invested in changing the trajectory of his life, O’Neil is dedicated to giving back to the community that supported him and creating positive changes for those in need. In an unprecedented year faced with hardships due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, O’Neil delivered hundreds of healthy food boxes to assist families, veterans and senior citizens. O’Neil also surprised five families in need with a new car and provided leadership to create food baskets and secure toys for more than 40,000 families during the holiday season. Additionally, in June 2020, he organized a multicultural Love Walk in Tampa to unite the community. Due to his outstanding commitment, O’Neil was recently inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as the Warrior Award recipient, an award given to an individual who exhibits unwavering strength and perseverance and who lives life with courage and compassion.
SPORTS HUMANITARIAN TEAM OF THE YEAR AWARD
The Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year Award represents a sports club/team that demonstrates how teamwork can create a measurable impact on a community or cause. The winner will be able to direct a $100,000 grant from ESPN to the qualified charity related to the award-winning humanitarian efforts. The finalists will be able to direct a $25,000 grant to the charity related to their award-winning efforts.
Following George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests, the Atlanta Dream’s previous owner and Georgia Senate Candidate denounced the WNBA’s public support of the Black Lives Matter movement, undermining her own players and their beliefs, and forcing them to take a position in direct opposition of their employer. Rather than stay silent, they bravely spoke truth to power, and along with WNBA peers, shined a light on the important issues of racial justice and voter suppression. Then, shockwaves were felt across the political and sports world when, on a nationally televised game, the Dream players wore “Vote Warnock” t-shirts, publicly endorsing the owner’s opponent in the Georgia Senate election. The support of the WNBA and the Dream catalyzed the opponent’s candidacy and led to his Senate victory. In a full circle moment, the Dream made history again when former Dream All-Star Renee Montgomery became the first former WNBA player to become both an owner and senior executive. The Atlanta Dream was named in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, and what these women accomplished for civil rights and social justice embodies Dr. King’s “Dream” of a more equitable America.
In a year when their community needed support more than ever, Denver Broncos players stepped up to the challenge, volunteering more than 850 hours through 744 different appearances and impact points. The players and team launched a series of social justice initiatives through the new Broncos Inspire Change program, working with local leaders, activists and grassroots organizations to advocate for policy and legislative reform to impact areas such as racial equality, criminal justice, poverty, education and economic development. The Broncos addressed other pressing needs in Colorado in 2020, supporting 35 local nonprofits with rapid and flexible funding through the Community Grant Program; hosting numerous mobile food pantry distributions at Empower Field at Mile High; and organizing a personal protective equipment drive for medical professionals. The Broncos are the only professional sports team to fully fund its own branch of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, giving 14,000+ under-resourced youth a home away from home since 2003. A recent evaluation found Broncos Club members perform better in school (graduate at a rate higher than local schools), become the leaders of tomorrow (spend time on projects to help their community) and live healthier lives (abstain from risky behaviors including drugs and alcohol).
New York City Football Club
New York City Football Club (NYCFC) and its charitable foundation, City in the Community (CITC), have continued to make a deep and tangible impact across the five boroughs. The Club has built 40 soccer pitches in underserved neighborhoods, delivered free health and education programs to 30,000+ young people, and trained and developed 150+ youth in community coaching. Throughout the pandemic, the Club stayed committed to serving the local community and NYCFC staff volunteered 2,000+ hours of community service. When COVID hit New York City, NYCFC launched a partnership with NY Common Pantry and has donated 250,000+ lifesaving meals to South Bronx residents. Additionally, the Club converted all core community programs to virtual classrooms, delivered daily soccer workouts and hosted a podcast to keep 1,600 local youth engaged throughout the pandemic. For families, NYCFC created a COVID resource hub to provide educational materials and workouts from players. NYCFC continued to train and develop the next generation of community leaders through the Club’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC) – creating pathways into education, careers and entrepreneurship. These Young Leaders have volunteered over 7,000 hours since the group’s inception, including work with NY Common Pantry to amplify the Club’s efforts to address food insecurity.
Toronto Blue Jays
At the onset of the pandemic, the Toronto Blue Jays and Jays Care Foundation were determined to address the alarming challenges under-resourced Canadian youth and their families were facing in Toronto and throughout Canada. Rogers Centre, the home of the Blue Jays, was transformed into a food packing and distribution hub to ensure families could access much-needed supplies, and the Blue Jays Community Commitment provided 390,000 food bank hampers (the equivalent of 8,190,000 meals) to Canadian families. Jays Care surveyed program participants and their families to determine their needs and created virtual programs and resources to support virtual play-based programs. This provided nearly 250 organizations with robust training for their frontline staff, program resources and funding to re-hire staff. With thousands of kids living with disabilities unable to participate in their Challenger Baseball leagues, the Blue Jays sent more than 3,000 adaptive equipment kits to enable kids to play baseball and maintain their motor skills. In total, the Blue Jays enabled 14,200 youth facing barriers to participate in daily virtual programming, and trained over 1,000 additional educators and after-school programmers across North America in techniques for making virtual platforms and classrooms places where children can connect, play, laugh and learn.
CORPORATE COMMUNITY IMPACT AWARD
The Corporate Community Impact Award recognizes a corporation that utilizes their business platform and the power of sports to help advance a social issue, cause or community organization. The winner will be able to direct a $100,000 grant from ESPN to the qualified charity related to the award-winning humanitarian efforts. The finalists will be able to direct a $25,000 grant to the charity related to their award-winning efforts.
Powell’s POV: Congratulations to Titus for being recognized again this year. Whether he wins the award or not, it’s a significant and well deserved honor.