Columbia International Affairs Online: Journals

CIAO DATE: 10/2011

Good Sports

Americas Quarterly

A publication of:
Council of the Americas

Volume: 5, Issue: 3 (June 2011)


Lionel Messi, Albert Pujols, Marta Vieira, and other star athletes from the hemisphere highlight their favorite causes.

Full Text

Mia Hamm (soccer) Lorena Ochoa (golf) Albert Pujols (baseball) Lionel Messi (soccer) Tony Gonzalez (U.S. football) Marta Vieira (soccer) The six sports stars featured in this section have taken up a myriad of social causes through their foundations and charitable activities. Their work ranges from providing health and education to children in the slums of the Dominican Republic (Albert Pujols) to promoting women’s rights as a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador (Marta Vieira). More than a charitable act, these individuals feel a responsibility to promote the causes to which they are personally tied. And while they often aren’t recognized for these efforts, they devote the same intensity and passion to their causes that they apply to the field of play. The following profiles of athletes and their foundations show that in a region where sports are king, star athletes can (and should) be advocates for positive change. Mia Hamm "You don't necessarily need to start your own foundation, but the attachment to a cause is amazing when it is personal." Mia Hamm visits actress Charlize Theron's Mpilonhle (A Good Life) project, dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention among adolescents. July 8, 2010, Mtubatuba, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. Photo by Brent Stirton (CTAOP/Contour/Getty). Mia Hamm Foundation Sports and Stats At age 15 in 1987, the youngest woman ever to play on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and, in 1991 and 1999, played on the winning teams of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Location of Activities United States Mission Started in 1999, the Mia Hamm Foundation provides support for patients and families undergoing bone marrow and cord blood transplants. Hamm lost her brother Garrett to aplastic anemia in 1997. The foundation raises awareness and funds for families whose members are undergoing treatment and promotes sports among young women. “Sports gave me confidence.…I made my first set of friends on the field,” says Hamm. “The lessons learned in sports—communication, self-esteem, time management, education—all these life lessons are why we try to promote sports for young women.” Why It's Important Hamm’s personal connection to bone marrow and cord blood transplant has made her an outspoken advocate for families and patients undergoing treatment. Website Lorena Ochoa "Education is the best way to help kids and their families by giving them the tools to get ready for the future." Lorena Ochoa tees off during day four of the Mission Hills Start Trophy tournament, October 30, 2010, Haikou, China. Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty. Fundación Lorena Ochoa Sports and Stats The former LPGA golfer is a two-time Major World Championship winner and was ranked #1 female golfer for three consecutive years (April 2007–May 2010). Location of Activities Guadalajara, Mexico Mission In 1994 she started Fundación Lorena Ochoa to provide a quality education to Mexico’s most disadvantaged, marginalized children. Its work has helped hundreds of children in the city of Guadalajara through the Centro Educativo La Barranca, and Ochoa hopes to expand the program nationwide. The program also offers schooling for disadvantaged children and extracurricular programs including sports, computers, painting, and domestic skills, as well as counseling services and adult education. Why It's Important According to recent data, less than 32 percent of the Mexican population finishes primary school and over 2,000 Mexican children drop out of school every day. Website Albert Pujols "That was my dream as a little boy—if I became somebody—to come back [to the Dominican Republic] and give back to the community, and tell these people, 'You have somebody that cares about you.'" Albert Pujols photographed by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery for Americas Quarterly at the Roger Dean Stadium during Cardinals spring training on March 10, 2011, Jupiter, Florida. Pujols Family Foundation Sports and Stats The St. Louis Cardinals first baseman received the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2001, was voted Most Valuable Player three times and played for the 2006 World Series champions. Location of Activities La Romana, Batey de Las Pajas and Batey Aleman in the Dominican Republic Mission In 2005, he founded the Pujols Family Foundation “to promote awareness, provide hope and meet tangible needs” of families and children with Down syndrome and other disabilities or life-threatening illnesses, and to improve the quality of life for people living in poverty in the Dominican Republic. A key component of the foundation is the Pujols’ faith. The inspiration for the foundation came from the Pujols’ daughter, Isabella, who has Down syndrome. Activities include taking eye doctors and dentists to the Dominican Republic to provide health services (the latter was dubbed Operation Smile), delivering beds (Operation Sound Asleep), running a baseball program in shantytowns, hosting two annual proms for kids 16 and older with Down syndrome, and offering support for parents of children with disabilities (including, in April 2011, a new mothers luncheon). Why It's Important Perhaps more devastating than the physical and emotional challenges of living with a disability, children and families with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities often struggle with immense social stigma. Website Leo Messi "My effort and perseverance could be a good example to help the children who need it most." Lionel Messi photographed by Andy Marlin/Getty Images for Americas Quarterly at Meadowlands Stadium during an exhibition game between Argentina and the United States, March 26, 2011, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Leo Messi Foundation Sports and Stats He won FIFA Player of the Year in 2009 with FC Barcelona, and was named La Liga Player of the Year in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Location of Activities Argentina Mission Since 2007, the Leo Messi Foundation has provided access to education and health care for at-risk children. Most of the foundation’s projects are in Santa Fe province in Argentina, where Messi was born, and focus on constructing and maintaining schools, youth centers and children’s parks in Santiago del Estero. The foundation has also teamed up with Fundación FC Barcelona. to build a laboratory in the city of Añatuya that will focus on prevention and treatment of Chagas disease. Other partner organizations include UNICEF—Messi was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2010—and the International Red Cross. Why It's Important Basic access to health and education is crucial for children to be able to overcome socioeconomic challenges and pursue their dreams Website Tony Gonzalez "A lot of times these kids and elderly people I visit with don't know who I am but they smile because somebody came to visit them—and the reward you get from doing it makes it all worhwhile." Tony Gonzalez works out prior to an NFL game against the Baltimore Ravens, November 11, 2010, Atlanta, Georgia. Photographed by Paul Abell/AP. Tony Gonzalez Foundation/Shadow Buddies Foundation Sports and Stats Since 1997, he has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs and now the Atlanta Falcons. The six-time Pro-Bowl tight end set the record for most receptions in 2004, making him the first player in his position to hit that mark since 1986. Location of Activities United States Mission The Tony Gonzalez Foundation helps fund the activities of Shadow Buddies—an organization that pairs sick children and adults with “buddies”—ailment-specific plush dolls that help them cope. Dolls are distributed in participating hospitals and health care facilities. Why It's Important Child patients with critical illnesses have an array of needs besides medical ones. They often feel scared, alone and anxious, and have unique emotional and psychological needs. Play therapy, including Shadow Buddies and its “just-like-me” dolls, offers a means of meeting those needs. Website & Marta Vieira "As one of four female [UN Goodwill] Ambassadors, I'm here to help fight poverty and support women's rights through sports." Marta Vieira (airborne) photographed by Ryan Dorsett for Americas Quarterly at the Sahlen's Sports Park during practice with the Western New York Flash, May 26, 2011, Elma, New York. UNDP Goodwill Ambassadorship Sports and Stats She has won the FIFA Female World Player of the Year award for the past five years and was the Most Valuable Player of Women's Professional Soccer in 2009 and 2010. Location of Activities Brazil Mission Standing a modest five feet, four inches tall with a carefree demeanor, Brazilian soccer phenom Marta Vieira da Silva (Marta) doesn’t look all that threatening. But get her on the soccer field with a ball at her feet and she will be happy to show you how she earned the nickname “the female Pelé.” Compatriot and fellow soccer star Edson Arante do Nascimento (Pelé), who also wore jersey number 10, agreed with the comparison, but added that Marta has prettier legs. Known for her blistering speed and uncanny ability to find the back of the net, the 25-year-old Brazilian native is now indisputably the best female soccer player in the world and has no intention of passing the torch any time soon. She began her international career in Sweden, where she scored 111 goals in 103 games for Umea IK, before coming to the U.S. to play for the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league. This year she signed with the Western New York Flash in Buffalo, NY. On the international level, Marta led Brazil to the finals of the 2007 Women’s World Cup and was the tournament’s top scorer. All eyes were on Marta again during this summer’s World Cup to see if she would repeat. In November 2010, the United Nations Development Programme chose Marta to become a Goodwill Ambassador, one of the international body’s high-profile spokespersons tasked with promoting the Millennium Development Goals. According to Marta, the Ambassadors are “international role models who can support social causes on a global stage.” Having grown up in the rural town of Dois Riachos in Brazil’s northeastern Algoas state, Marta is no stranger to poverty. Since becoming an Ambassador, she has tried to raise awareness of poverty and inequality, especially in her home country. As one of the world’s most successful female athletes, and one of four female Goodwill Ambassadors, Marta is also a proud spokesperson for women’s sports as a form of empowerment. “The world is now accepting the idea of women’s soccer much more easily,” says Marta.