Sketty Productions: Tackling Mental Illness Through Sport and Theatre

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Every two hours, someone in England takes their own life. Suicide is a leading cause of death amongst young men in the UK and it is estimated that 90% of people who commit or attempt suicide suffer from mental health problems. 850,000 children and young people in the UK currently have a diagnosed mental health problem. However, mental illness amongst young people is still, sadly, somewhat of a taboo subject. Research shows that 75% of the people who successfully commit suicide were not receiving support from a mental health service prior to their death.

Result is a new theatre production from Sketty which hopes to get young people talking about mental health. It focuses on the lives and experiences of six young men training in a Football academy and documents the emotional impact of their consequent successes and failures. Sketty is an English theatre company co-founded back in 2005 by brothers Alex and Toby Clarke. Football is not an area commonly associated with vulnerability and so I was intrigued as to how it could be used as a means to discuss mental health stigma. I met up with Sketty’s co-founders, Alex and Toby, to find out more.

Rebecca: What was the purpose of creating Result and how did it come about?

Toby: Our older brother has a little girl. I have a little boy and we all get together some weekends. One weekend, whilst the kids were upstairs cooking fake food, he began telling me about his new job as Consultant Sports Psychologist for under 18s at a Premier League Football club… He gave me an overview of the kind of training process youngsters are put through in youth training academies and how important his role was in supporting them throughout the two years they are in the academy. I got goose-bumps as he told me about the lack of mental health provision there was in the game (but reassuringly not in the club he is based in).

He shared his concerns at the youngsters lack of a plan B and how part of his role was preparing them to deal with success as well as failure, how to approach the game mentally as well as physically and how to channel criticism in to something more positive. The more he spoke, the more I wanted to write this play.

Alex and I then went away and did a bit of research on the game… and came across stories of depression, stress and suicide with some cases directly linked to the surmounted pressure that is placed on players at such a ripe age. We knew from the first sharing that we were creating a vital play that will raise awareness of the strain that is put on youngsters. It is set in the world of football but it chimes with all adolescent pressures.

Rebecca: What do you hope to achieve from this production?

Alex: We hope to produce a show that encapsulates and informs. Our aim is to take this accessible play in to schools and colleges in order to begin a debate on how to prepare yourself for the future. I spent three years working in the youth sector and have experienced first hand the transformative nature of theatre and its ability to challenge opinion and perception. Football is such an accessible subject matter. We could use it to stir discussion around ideas of racism, homophobia (still not a single player has come out in the game), peer pressure and ambition.

Rebecca: What are the central themes of Result?

Toby: Communication. I started to look for a common theme in all the boys’ stories and the word ‘communication’ came up each time. David who sustains the injury can’t talk to anyone and is suffering alone, Lofty can’t have it out with his Dad about his affair and relies on the game to hide away from it. The Coach is too proud to ask the Psychologist for help and the Psychologist is trying to communicate and connect with the boys through terminology only he understands.

Alex: The only suicide in the piece comes from the person you least expect since he is Bi-polar and a master of disguising his real emotions. We are working with a young actor who has had first hand experience of this illness and we hope to capture it with honesty. Ultimately, the message of the play is ‘Got a problem? F*****g talk to someone.’

Rebecca: Who do you hope will come to see the production?

Toby: We hope the appeal will be universal. We intend to generate a young audience who can relate to the themes and stories in the hope that it informs their own lives and choices.

Theatre holds up a mirror to the world. In my opinion, it can do two things. Firstly it can transport you to places that thankfully you’ll never have to go to so you get to experience trauma and suffering without actually having to go there but still finally helps you consider others’ plight.

Secondly, it can reflect your own life and here’s where I believe theatre is at its most powerful; when it creates enough truth for its audience to associate with the narrative: “That’s me.” Or, more importantly: “That could be me if I don’t…” The best plays I’ve seen or read have helped me to make sense of my own small world even if it was dealing with a much bigger one.

Rebecca: Why do you think mental health is a difficult discussion for young boys?

Alex: I think mental health is difficult to discuss no matter what age you are. If you discover, for instance, that you suffer from depression then it doesn’t matter at what age since, that moment, the discovery is still the same.

Toby: Young boys (and girls) have great lives these days. They go on cool holidays, have the best friends, the most loving boy friends and girlfriends and go to the most amazing parties. But then once you log off Facebook, once the self promotion is taken away you’re still left with reality. Sometimes that reality consists of having to pick up your sister after school everyday because your mum has to work/can’t work/can’t be bothered to work. Often reality is struggling to make it in to school on time because your EMA has been cut and now you have to run because you can either afford the bus or lunch that day.

Reality for some young people is sleeping with someone or stealing for someone because that’s the only form of love and attention they can rely on. For others, it’s simply that horrendous feeling of not fitting in since deep down you know you’re different. But all their Facebook statuses show them having a wonderful time and they tweet about how awesome their lives are. So after maintaining the charade on social media…where and when do they get the chance to tell someone “I’m not coping.” Everybody else is, I saw the pictures, I read the statuses so why am I the only one struggling? Why am I the only one who’s different?

I recognize there are charities and individuals out there doing invaluable work with youngsters and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with some of them. But talking about mental health issues is scary and sometimes it needs sugar coating or camouflaging. Sometimes it doesn’t need the words ‘therapy’ or ‘seminar’ attached to it. I believe a ‘silly play’ is sometimes enough to get people engaging with their own inner conflicts, and even sharing them with complete strangers in a safe and creative environment; a first step towards coping before they’ve even realized it. We need more creative platforms for young people to talk.

Result is due to be shown at the Pleasance Theatre London in October 2014. To find out more about the show and Company please visit Sketty Productions or email info@skettyproductions.co.uk.

Big Win for Richard Sherman and the Sherman Family Foundation

After finding himself at the center of controversy for an epic trashing talking rant against San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks went on to win Super Bowl 48 in epic proportions over the Denver Broncos. After a hail of racial epithets being hurled at him, Richard Sherman stated that a man should be judged for his activities off the field and whether he is an active member of his community.

rsherman1Raised by a social worker mother and a father who spent 30 years in public works, Beverly and Kevin Sherman from Compton, California instilled the value of giving back into their star athlete son. On July 2, 2013, Richard Sherman announced via Twitter the formation of the Sherman Family Foundation. Did I also mention that he is a Stanford graduate with a degree in communications?

According to the Seattle Seahawks blog,

With the help of his close family and friends, cornerback Richard Sherman has announced the launch of “Blanket Coverage – The Richard Sherman Family Foundation.” The All-Pro, Stanford graduate says the foundation will “channel it’s resources to ensure that as many children as possible are provided with proper school supplies and adequate clothing.” Read Full Article 

Prior to the formation of the Richard Sherman Family Foundation, Richard had already developed a reputation with his fans and the community as a charitable giver and philanthropist. He once organized an event for the Help A Hero Foundation which was attended by 7,500 people in order to help raise funds to purchase a home for an injured soldier.

The morning after a victory against the Arizona Cardinals, Richard Sherman went to Foster High School in Tukwila, Washington to speak with students about bullying and being a good citizen. He was also armed with school supplies and new cleats for the football team.

Despite Richard Sherman’s charitable actions and awesome play on the field, it was unfortunate that he and his family felt the need to defend their honor after the word “thug” was used to describe him over 48 times in the media after the win over the 49ers. Buzzfeed decided to take the time to re-introduce Richard Sherman and the Sherman Family Foundation in their ode to him entitled 23 Reasons Richard Sherman is Actually One of the Most Likeable Player in the NFL.

According to Buzzfeed,

Blanket Coverage, The Richard Sherman Family Foundation, provides kids with school supplies and clothes. Since Sherman’s charity was founded this past July, they’ve brought goods to four schools and nine community centers. Sherman’s stated goal isn’t “charity,” but leveling the playing field for kids who don’t have the things most people take for granted. Students sign a contract with him: In return for improving their grades, making good attendance, and being good citizens, he’ll continue to help them with clothes and supplies. The foundation also recently visited the Rescue Mission in Tacoma, Wash., and donated socks, blankets, shoes, board games, and books to 160 families who are homeless or trying to get their lives back on track after suffering from addiction. Read Full Article

I suppose Richard Sherman could use this Super Bowl win as vindication against the racial hate endured as a result of his rant against Michael Crabtree or maybe a possible I told you so could be in order. However, I think he will take the high road instead of taking a victory lap on his detractors. Richard Sherman had every opportunity to paint Michael Crabtree as a villain who at the time was being investigated for sexual assault, and the media never mentioned it while seeking an explanation from him about his on camera rant. Even, I was unaware until one of our writers wrote an article on sex and football.

Although Richard Sherman is still under a rookie contract, you wouldn’t know it from the amount he gives to charity. View the video below to see what the Richard Sherman Family Foundation has been up to in the midst of football season, and you can also connect with Richard on Twitter or on Facebook.

Photo Credits: Richard Sherman’s Instagram and Facebook

How Human Trafficking Factors into the Super Bowl

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There is a strange and disturbing association between sex and football in our country. Perhaps, it’s because football is an American sport of which we are uniquely proud, but we also must examine whether it provides unique protections to its players. Also happening in a few other industries, rampant cases of sexual assault are often ignored or excused. However, at both the professional and collegiate levels, star athletes often receive a pass despite allegations of perpetrating heinous sexual crimes against women.

In 2011, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott put the Superbowl on the map as the largest single prosecuted incident of human trafficking in the US. However, the jury is still out on the accuracy of this statement. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has used the occasion to push for the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which imposes harsher penalties for those found guilty of selling or purchasing humans. New York and New Jersey have taken special precautions to reduce the number of humans trafficked in relation to this weekend’s Superbowl game. Whether or not the incidences of trafficking are higher at the Superbowl, it is important for this issue to receive increased attention.

Recently, former kicker for the University of Michigan, Brendan Gibbons, was expelled, and he was arrested for an alleged assault dating back to 2009. Yet, the University lauded him as a game-changing superstar. Taylor Lewan, one of Michigan’s All-American athletes was alleged to have threatened to rape the victim again if she pressed charges. Gibson was not expelled until 2014, after his eligibility to play football had expired. Read the full story.

Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and two-time Superbowl champion, was accused of multiple sexual assaults in different states by different women at different times. He had to sit on the bench for six games. He is still widely celebrated for his successes on the field.

No matter the sanctions and no matter the accusations, fans and franchises alike defend their players at nauseam claiming there is not enough proof to jeopardize a man’s precious football career. There is no way to know for sure, her word against his. Our general public thinks that 50% of all rape accusations are false. The actual number? Somewhere between two and eight percent. This means that more than 90% of all alleged rapes actually happened and are not desperate attempts at fame or fortune. And with those odds, you don’t need to be good at math to crunch the numbers on Roethlisberger.

These incidents are becoming a frequent occurrence among football players. Michael Crabtree, 49ers wide receiver, was questioned in a sexual assault investigation two weeks ago just as the team’s season ended in a playoff loss to the Seahawks. What does this say about our values as a nation?

Maria Shriver’s latest report on the status of American women features a piece by Sister Joan Chittister who says,

“”In our own country, rapes in the military and rapes on college campuses go unpunished because “boys will be boys,” and winning wars and football games are more important than protecting the integrity of the women who are the victims of rape.” Read full article.

What is this allegiance we pledge to football over the freedoms and safety of American citizens? How can we not only ignore these crimes but celebrate and highly reward those who commit them? And what is that teaching our daughters about their value in our society?

So, this Superbowl Sunday as you watch the game think twice about what’s happening off the field. Enjoy the commercials with a grain of salt remembering the harsh and lasting impact the objectification of those models and actresses have on young boys and girls. When the blimp gives you a bird’s eye view of the stadium, try to spot the women being forced to sell their bodies in the parking lot.

While you watch the Seahawks, think of Jarriel King, a former Seahawk who was dismissed from the team in 2012 after a sexual assault and now plays for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football league. When you watch the Broncos, think of Perrish Cox, a former Bronco who actually impregnated the woman who accused him of raping her, though he was like so many others, acquitted of the charges.

There’s no way to put ourselves in the skin of someone who has been raped, to walk a mile in their shoes, or to know their pain. But, we could start by taking their word for it and by holding perpetrators accountable regardless of their athleticism. Then, maybe our daughters and future daughters won’t have to know that pain either.

Peyton Manning Gives Back with his Peyback Foundation

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In 2014, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning led his team to a 26-16 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, it secured the Broncos its first Super Bowl appearance since 1998.

Just as important as the win was the amount of attention given to Peyton’s chant, particularly his use of the word “Omaha”, in which he chanted the city’s name 31 times before every play and snap made. Omaha officials worked diligently to capitalize on the publicity generated by Peyton’s call, which he used 44 times during Denver’s 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC divisional playoff game.

Established in 1999, Peyton Manning created the PeyBack Foundation which promotes the future success of disadvantaged youth by assisting programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for at-risk children. The Foundation has donated more than $6.5 million to youth organizations in Indiana, Tennessee, Louisiana and Colorado.

For the AFC Championship game, eight Omaha businesses teamed up to donate $800 for every Omaha call the quarterback made against New England to Manning’s PeyBack Foundation for at-risk youth which netted $28,000 for his Foundation in that game alone.

According to ESPN,

Fresh off pledging $800 to Peyton Manning’s charity for each time he uttered “Omaha” in the AFC Championship Game, the Omaha Chamber Of Commerce says it will now donate $1,500 for each time he yells the word during the Super Bowl. Read Full Article

While many celebrities participate in charity as a means to boost their public image, Peyton does so out of a sense of obligation. Peyton described his philosophy when it comes to philanthropy in a 2012 Denver Post article.

“You are supposed to be part of the community and you are supposed to give back. It’s not a part-time job. You don’t play somewhere for six months, go someplace else and come back,” he said.

The article also states, “His PeyBack Foundation’s $4.3 million distribution included $800,000 to 147 youth organizations and $100,000 to Marion County court-appointed child-advocate programs representing abused children”.

Considered one of the best to ever play his position, Peyton Manning is statistically having his best season in NFL history. He’s finished the year with new records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55) and is the favorite to win the league’s MVP award. He was also named Sports Illustrated’s 2013 Sportsman of the Year. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos will face off against the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

With a communications degree from the University of Tennessee, Peyton talks about the creation of the Peyback Foundation in the video.

Seattle Seahawks Fullback Derrick Coleman Shares His Empowering Story & Inspires Young Fans

Regardless of who you are rooting for when it comes to the Super Bowl, there is no denying the empowering story of Derrick Coleman, Seattle Seahawks’ fullback.  Earlier this month, Duracell released a commercial featuring Derrick Coleman that showcased how he remained steadfast in his ambition to play professional football, and his refusal to be defined by his different ability:

The commercial has captured the attention of many across the nation, especially those within the hearing-impaired community.  At the age of three, Coleman was diagnosed with an incurable hearing impairment that caused him to wear a hearing aid.  Coleman endured the negativity of people telling him to forgo his dreams because of his hearing impairment.  Instead of allowing such statements and attitudes to influence his life’s path, he decided to work harder to achieve his goals.

Coleman had faced setbacks on his journey to becoming a professional athlete. His name was not called during the 2012 NFL Draft.Though he was eventually signed by the Minnesota Vikings, he was cut right before the start of the season. Most people would have given up on their dream after experiencing such crushing defeats, but not Coleman.

After being cut from the Vikings, he decided to go back home, stay in shape, and remain connected to the sport he loved by working at Troy High School as the running back coach. His determination and talent led to him being signed by the Seattle Seahawks in December 2012 and becoming the first legally deaf offensive player in NFL history.

Joining the NFL was his great career aspiration, but the focus Coleman has now is to inspire children with disabilities to achieve their own dreams.  In an interview with Sports News, Coleman stated that he “wanted to inspire people, especially children, to trust the power within and achieve their goals.”  Coleman’s youngest fans are indeed watching his every move, and are encouraging him to continue to break glass ceilings.

Riley Kovalcik wrote a letter to Coleman, and shared that she and her twin sister had something in common with the NFL star – they, too, wear hearing aids.  In the letter, Riley remarked at how she understood what Coleman goes through, she encouraged him to do his best, and stated that she had faith in him.  The letter was shared on Twitter by Riley’s father, Jake Kovalcik, and has since gone viral on social media.

Being moved by the letter, Derrick Coleman wrote a response to the girls, and tweeted his letter.  Coleman thanked the girls for showing their support to him and the Seahawks, and stated that they are more than capable of achieving their hopes and desires, regardless of their hearing ability.

As a person who has moderate hearing loss due to my disability, and wears two hearing aids, seeing Coleman’s story has had a profound impact on myself, like countless others.  Coleman’s story may be considered “inspiring,” but in actuality, he made the conscious decision to not allow his seemingly “limitation” to control his destiny.  Coleman represents the millions of people with different abilities in this country who are shattering glass ceilings and making a name for themselves in their respective fields.

We need more of these stories to be shared so that children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities will know that the only person who can truly hinder their progress is themselves.  Representation of people with disabilities in the media, sports, etc. is needed, and I am proud that Coleman is representing the millions like Riley and myself through his sportsmanship and by sharing his life story.

Duracell Derrick Coleman Commercial (Extended Cut)

NFL Goes Purple But A Social Worker Calls Them Out On Domestic Violence

NFLpurpleAs a result of a request made by Outsports, the Thursday Night NFL Broadcasting crew wore purple in honor of spirit day for last night’s October 17th football game between the Seahawks and the Cardinals. National Spirit Day is an annual event which promotes awareness for anti-LGBT bullying and offers a show of support for LGBT youth. This subtle action by members of the NFL community helps to move the conversation forward in bringing the message of anti-bullying to a national audience. However, it must be acknowledged that there is a growing movement for the NFL to address increasing occurrences of domestic violence involving its players.

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and a Baltimore Social Worker has been circulating a change.org petition urging NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, to take a preventive stance in addressing domestic violence in the league. After the murder-suicide perpetrated by Kansas City Chief, linebacker, Jovan Belcher, it appears the league has not taken any measures to address the increasing incidents of domestic violence.

Gretchen Tome, the author of the petition, is a Clinical Social Worker who works with families affected by domestic violence in Baltimore, Maryland. In the wake of Kasandra Perkins’ murder, the media paid more attention to Belcher’s suicide than the loss of her life at the hands of domestic violence according to Tome. In her appeal and petition to Commissioner Goodell, she cites:

There are 32 NFL teams in the league and 21 of those teams have players who have at some point in time faced domestic assault or sexual assault charges. Kansas City Chiefs’ former running back, Larry Johnson, was arrested in October for choking his girlfriend. Miami Dolphins’ receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson was arrested in August for headbutting his wife. In March, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall was accused of punching a woman in the face outside of a nightclub.

The list is long. And something has to change.

These high profile cases give the NFL the opportunity to do more. In July, the NFL established LifeLine — a program for players, coaches, team and staff in crisis. And Comissioner Roger Goodell started a “mental health initiative” for players, staff and coaches. But it remains unclear if these new programs have had impact. Under current rules, the NFL  has the ability to fine or suspend any player facing charges that relate to domestic assault. Sign the Petition

If the NFL wanted to tackle this issue, they have more than enough resources at their disposal. There are a host of organizations and campaigns working to end domestic violence and sexual assaults, and No More is one of many organizations dedicated to this cause. Their website is full of information, public service announcements (PSA), and tool kits for those who are interested in taking action. You can visit them at http://nomore.org/.

View a PSA by Christopher Meloni who played Elliott on Law and Order Special Victims Unit:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tajpGmYczXU&list=PLRH4qMDKG2FHUm_VEtUkK2pXWdtJuzoeN[/youtube]

The Community Superstar: Dwyane Wade

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As we all know, the NBA Finals are in full gear right now. The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are locked in a classic series, as both teams battle to win another NBA Championship. While the whole world is focused on the play of the superstars on the court, I want to focus on some of the things one player, Dwyane Wade, is doing off the court to make a difference in communities across America.

Every year the NBA gives out the Community Assist Award. The award honors the NBA player who best reflects the passion that the league and its players have for giving back to their communities. Dwyane Wade took home award for the 2012-2013 season, in recognition of his outstanding efforts in the community and his ongoing charitable work. Wade’s passion is felt throughout the whole entire NBA. Players, coaches, and owners are inspired by Dwyane’s heartfelt efforts to make a difference in the lives of kids all over the nation.

In 2003, Wade founded the Wade’s World Foundation. The foundation is known for its support with literacy, health, and fatherhood primarily in less fortunate communities around the Chicago, Milwaukee, and South Florida areas. Wade’s vision to help others began at the age of 7. When normal kids were worried about toys, and having fun, Wade was concerned about the health of his surrounding communities.

Wade was inspired by news articles that featured celebrities visiting schools to read stories and offer words of encouragement to students. Wade wanted to be that person who brought smiles to those kids faces. Wade vowed that if he ever become successful, he would become a positive figure for kids to look up to. After years of hard work, dedication, and practice, Wade is that person that kids look up to.

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In December of 2008, a Florida woman’s nephew accidentally burned down the family home. Wade heard of the incident and reached out to the family by purchasing them a new home, including furniture, and clothing. In September of 2009, Wade donated $25,000 to keep a Robbins, Illinois public library from shutting down.

Wade deemed the contribution as “small” and mentioned that he was not always able to help others, instead he was the one who needed the help then. Now that he had the opportunity to make a difference, he would always be there to lend a hand to those in need.

In 2010, Wade’s biggest contribution came when he joined former teammate, Alonzo Mourning’s efforts to raise money for the victims of the destructive earthquake in Haiti. In just a few days, over $800,000 was raised with the help of fellow athletes and friends.

No matter what happens in the NBA Finals, whether Wade wins another championship or not,  he will still be a role model, and leader for kids all over the world. No championship ring can compare to the feeling of being there for people who need it the most. For Dwyane, basketball will always come second to helping people.

Wade knows what it’s like to not have anyone to look up to. He also knows the feeling of not being able to eat some nights, and he’ll go to extreme measures to keep as many kids as he can from becoming familiar with some of things he became familiar with as a child. Wade’s mission is far from over, but he’s already made a big difference in the lives of hundreds of families.

Wade’s World Foundation Website – http://www.wadesworldfoundation.org/

http://youtu.be/-ttF29PAV-s

Warrick Dunn Charities Help Single Parents Become Homeowners

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Former NFL star, Warrick Dunn, is mostly known for his athletic ability. During 12 seasons in the NFL, Dunn was selected to the Pro Bowl, 3 times, and he was also the Rookie of the Year in 1997. As a rookie in the NFL, Dunn instantly decided that his true mission was to help underprivileged families. During his rookie campaign in 1997, Dunn organized the Homes for the Holidays(HFTH) program. The HFTH program rewards single-parent families for reaching first-time homeownership.

In 2002, Dunn started the Warrick Dunn Charities which has partnered with Habitat for Humanity and Aaron’s Rents to provide families with completely furnished homes, food, and personal supplies. Since their establishment, the HFTH and WDC  programs have assisted over 115 single parents and over 300 dependents in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Tampa, and Tallahassee.

Dunn’s inspiration to be active in charity came from his mother Betty Dunn Smothers. His mother, a police officer, had dreams of owning a home to provide for her, and six children were never reached because she was killed while on duty. His mother inspired him through every positive decision he has made in life since her tragic death. In July 2012, Warrick Dunn Charities launched Betty’s Hope, a children’s bereavement program that works to empower youth as they manage their grief in a responsive environment to heal and enhance their quality of life.

Dunn’s hardships have molded him into a highly motivated person who wants to prevent children, and families, from going through the rough times that he and his own family endured. Most former NFL players take jobs in the media or stay out of the spotlight.

Dunn was inspired to continue helping families grow and providing housing to single-parents through the Home for the Holidays, and Warrick Dunn Charity programs. Dunn is still inspired by his mother’s dream, which motivates him to push harder for himself, and hundreds of families. Check out the link below for more information on Dunn’s charity programs.

Jason Collins Become First Openly Gay Male Sports Athlete

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Current NBA free agent, Jason Collins, took the world by storm earlier this week after becoming the first major sports athlete to announce that he was gay. Collins has been in the NBA for 12 years, and no one ever knew of his sexuality until Monday. When the story broke, Collin’s instantly became a household name. As everyone knows, the gay and lesbian rights issue has reached new heights in today’s society.

It’s truly amazing that no athlete has ever come out to admit that they were gay while being an active player. Most sports figures are seen as the toughest men in the entire world. You wouldn’t think that any of these rich and powerful men would have reason to hide anything from anyone. The truth is, there are more players like Jason Collins who are indeed afraid to speak out about their sexuality. That’s what makes it so special that this man stood up, before anyone else, and became a leader for gays across the world.

It’s comforting to see someone in Collins’ position be able to do what’s right despite possible retaliation. Jason received a ton of support including current and former, NBA and NFL, players. Kobe Bryant tweeted “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU”, and more sports figures are offering more support each day. Collins’ act of bravery is respected highly. All of the support he receives will make it easier for the next person who refuses to hide their sexual orientation. This was a very brave act by a man with nothing to gain and everything to lose.

We as people should continue to get behind others like Jason Collins. There are more people out there who are hiding and afraid to be criticized. As a nation, we need to stand behind individuals like Jason Collins, and let them know that we support their ability to live their lives without persecution.

Jason Collins surprised a lot of people especially when he didn’t know what type of responses he would receive. However, he still managed to muster up enough courage to come out and openly admit his sexual orientation. Hopefully, his courage will inspire more athletes in the LGBTQ community to be unafraid to let everyone know who they really are.

 

Photo Courtesy of  Sports illustration

Child of Adversity, Social Work Student, and Wilma Rudolph Recipient: Interview with Josh Nadzam

Luis Orta (Left) and Josh Nadzam (Right)
Luis Orta (Left) and Josh Nadzam (Right)

Recently, I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Josh Nadzam who is an award winning track star and social work student at the University of Kentucky, but it was Josh’s community service awards and his work with Soles for Souls that led to the latest article about him in the university’s school newspaper. Josh was very candid about the suffering and tragedies he has endured in order to escape his circumstances.

However, Josh credits his mother, extended family, and coaches for the support he needed to believe in himself. Most importantly, the University of Kentucky give him something every other Division 1 school denied him….A chance and the opportunity to prove himself.

We live in a day in age where people who have never lived in poverty feel quite comfortable telling someone who is poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  For those who don’t escape poverty, do not fail to do so simply because they lack will. The lack of access and opportunities along with doors constantly being closed in their face over and over again are barriers often too high to overcome.

SWH: Tell me about your background, and what led you to social work as a major?

Josh: I grew up in Monaca, Pennsylvania, a small blue-collar town of about 6,000 people.  I was born into a dysfunctional, broken family plagued with alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, and other issues.  After my parents split and divorced during my childhood, my mother raised me as a single-mother in the projects.  My father lived nearby and bobbed in and out of my life. When he was involved, it was highly detrimental.

When I was five years old, his heavy alcoholism culminated in a fall where he struck his head and had to be life-flighted to a nearby hospital.  The fall resulted into a coma where he underwent emergency brain surgery which left him with permanent partial paralysis of his left side.  Despite this traumatic event, he eventually returned to alcohol and throughout my childhood he attempted suicide three separate times.

My mother fought valiantly to raise me by herself, working many different jobs, and selflessly putting my needs ahead of hers at all times.  Unfortunately, she battled schizophrenia which often left her hospitalized for months at a time. However, no one comes close to her portrayal of selflessness.

She is truly my hero.  She worked tirelessly, battling a mental illness and raising me as a single mother to ensure I had the best opportunities possible and that I was protected from the drugs and violence that pervaded our neighborhood. Anything I have accomplished is framed by her sacrifices that allowed me to pursue my dreams. I also had unconditional support from my maternal grandmother, aunt, uncle, and high school basketball coach that I could not have persevered without.

Fortunately for me, I excelled in both academics and sports. My senior year, I was a captain on the football team, basketball team, track team, and the only member of the cross country team (our school was very small!) Track ultimately looked to be my best opportunity to escape my situation.  My running times were decent, but unfortunately they did not warrant Division 1 recruiting.

However, I still believed that I had the potential to compete at the Division-1 level, so I recruited myself.  I sent emails out to many D-1 coaches and got rejected by all–except the University of Kentucky (UK).  The UK coach at the time said I might have a chance to walk-on, which was like saying I might have a chance to have a chance. A chance was all I needed. Without visiting the university or stepping foot in Kentucky, I applied, got accepted, and came to UK.

With a lot of hard work, persistence, and discipline, I continuously improved and eventually earned a full scholarship. My sophomore year, I took a social work class and immediately found my passion. I connected with the values and principles of the profession and came to love it. Soon, I realized I wanted a career in social work.  I discovered early on that I was not going to make a lot of money, but I could care less. I found a career that I was passionate about and genuinely happy to pursue.

SWH: You have received the distinguished Wilma Rudolph Award for track and field, but what drives you to do community service which has led to multiple service awards?

I’d say there are many different reasons why I am driven to do a lot of community service. I genuinely want to help people, and I enjoy the intrinsic value of community service.  As a broke college student, I can’t help people by donating money, but I can certainly make it a priority to donate my time.  Also, I love the idea of community and everyone pitching in to help each other.  At the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and everyone needs help once in awhile.  Finally, my mother taught me through her actions what it means to be more concerned with the needs of others rather than your own.

SWH: Also, your track and field team is doing something with Soles for Souls, could you tell us about that? 

Josh: Three years ago, a teammate (Luis Orta) and I started a shoe drive off of an epiphany.  Luis came to me after feeling guilty over discarding his worn out running shoes. As runners, we have to get new shoes every 400-500 miles or else we will be susceptible to injury.  While the shoes are no longer appropriate for intense training, they are still good for walking around in, especially for someone who has never owned a pair before.

So together we started the UK Track & Field Shoe Drive and collected 2,100 pairs in our first year.  Our second year we expanded it to the SEC, collected 2,900 pairs at UK and 13,000 pairs throughout the SEC.  With the help of Hiruni Wijayaratne and many other teammates, coaches, athletes, and community members, we are in the midst of our third year and it is looking bigger than ever!  Each year, we have partnered with Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville that distributes shoes to over 125 different countries.

SWH: It appears you have found a way to incorporate doing community service with the track team, what would you say to other schools of social work or other teams to encourage them to utilize the service model the UK track team has successfully created?

Josh: I would highly encourage other teams to create community service projects and become invested in the community, especially for teams at large universities. As athletes, we are so blessed to receive the best clothing, training shoes, and equipment.  We are provided with such great opportunities and the very least we can do is give back to those who are less fortunate.  Also, the fans are so supportive of every community initiative we have led. I’ve learned that people are generally very eager to help out and give back. All it takes is a few people to lead the charge.

While everyone has the potential and ability to start a service model, those of  us in schools of social work need to be the leaders of these initiatives.  After all, our very profession is based on service and the welfare of others.  If we apply our education, skills and resources, we can create empowering service models that can change the world.  Just thinking about the potential we have as social workers fires me up!

SWH: What are your aspirations for both track and field as well as social work? Also, would you ever consider doing a public service announcement on social work and community service?

For track and field, I actually just finished up my last year of eligibility. I still run regularly and may compete unattached in the future, but for now I am just concentrating on finishing my master’s degree in social work.  For social work, my dream is to replicate Manchester Bidwell, a nonprofit organization that began in Pittsburgh.  This organization, founded by Bill Strickland, has a youth visual arts component that works to inspire at risk youth through the arts and ensure they graduate high school.

Manchester Bidwell also has an adult component in which unemployed, underemployed, and displaced workers enroll into a workforce development program and upon completion subsequently obtain employment in a prosperous occupation. The main theme of this center is that environment shapes people’s lives and each center is beautiful, filled with art, flowers, and sunlight. I have been chasing this dream relentlessly for the past year and it is really starting to come together. It is very exciting! If you are interested in checking out more about it, here is my website: www.gofundme.com/JoshNadzam

WWE Superstar John Cena’s Heroic Dedication To Charity

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Since his start in the WWE more than 10 years ago, John Cena has become a household name and the face of World Wrestling Entertainment. As the face of the WWE, Cena is constantly in the spotlight. Some stars may fold under the pressure of being a huge celebrity, but not John Cena.

Cena embraces his role as a leader in and out of the ring. John Cena has catapulted himself atop the wrestling industry and has won the WWE Championship more than ten times. During his run atop the WWE, John has also made history by helping kids across the United States.

As one of the biggest celebrities in America today, John Cena goes to extreme measures to make the world a better place. In 2009, Cena became Wish Ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Make-A-Wish Foundation is best known for its efforts to grant wishes for kids with life-threatening illnesses.

As Wish Ambassador, it’s Cena’s job to assist in expanding wish-granting outreach throughout America.  Led by NBA legend and Chief Wish Ambassador Michael Jordan, the council is composed of people passionate and dedicated to the Foundation’s work and vision.

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In 2012, John Cena became the number one Wish granting celebrity in the United States. Cena has granted over 300 wishes to this day, a number that continues to grow rapidly due to John’s dedication to the Foundation.

Cena meets two to three kids a week, a very tough task when you’re working 300 plus days a year as a professional wrestler. John Cena has made kids across America smile every week since he’s been active with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Most celebrities are known to just do a simple meet and greet with the children at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Cena does everything and more for the kids in need of help. Cena has been known to bring kids to live WWE events to meet some of their favorite wrestlers and TV personalities. Cena is also known to sign memorabilia for the kids and their families.

“He has been a big supporter of us forever,” said Make-A-Wish national communications manager Mark Hiegel. “By this time next year, he’ll have 400.” – Read the full story – Via Yahoo! Sports

Meeting John Cena is high on the lists of millions of kids across the world. Cena has those same kids atop his list as well. The current WWE Champion may not be liked by everyone in the business of professional wrestling but his efforts with the Make-A-Wish Foundation deserve everyone’s respect and admiration.

Celebrities of Cena’s stature should be influenced and encouraged by John’s work so they can also reach out to charities across the world in an effort to make the planet a better place. Thank You, John!

From NBA Star To School Crossing Guard for the Health Insurance

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Former NBA Superstar and Hall-of-Famer, Adrian Dantley, has a new job as a middle school crossing guard. This gives a whole new meaning to a “crossing-guard” in the NBA. Retired NBA players usually don’t end up working again especially blue-collar jobs. The money they earn through their careers is usually enough to provide for themselves and their family, but it isn’t about the money in Adrian Dantley’s case. After Dantley’s NBA career ended, he made his way up the coaching ladder.

From 2009-2012, Dantley was an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets, and he later was the head coach while George Karl was battling cancer. After that season ended, Dantley suddenly found himself without a  job because he did not want to switch back seats with Coach Karl after his return. This left Dantley without a job, out of the NBA, and without health insurance.

Now, Adrian Dantley is a crossing guard making about $15,000 a year working outside of Eastern Middle School in Washington, D.C., and 15k a year isn’t much for a man who still lives in a 1.1 million dollar home in a suburb of D.C. However, Dantley didn’t take the job for the money or the public service. He took the job for the health benefits because the NBA does not offer health benefits for retired players.  Although the job is part-time job working only one hour a day, he receives full-time healthcare benefits.

“On a recent morning I was sitting in a car at the intersection that Dantley guards, and just minutes before the first period bell was to ring, I saw him lunge in front of a running youngster, who was oblivious to everything but her own fear of tardiness, and keep the kid out of the path of a turning automobile. He went about this lifesaving task with all the effort he’d put into stopping Isaiah Thomas from driving to the basket or David Falk from touching a paycheck. It was as if the gods wanted me to know Dantley’s not on anybody’s dole.” – Dave McKenna / Sportswriter – Full Story via Yahoo

Dantley averaged 24.3 points per game for his career and is a top 25 scorer in NBA history, and he was also the leading scorer on the 1976 US Olympic team that captured the gold medal in Montreal. His NBA career lasted 15 years, also making six All-Star appearances.

Movie Review – A League of Their Own (1992)

A League of Their Own was a brilliant movie released in 1992, and it has since made its way into Hollywood history. The directors, producers, and actors had such a small canvas, but they managed to produce a masterpiece. Nobody ever knew they could stir up so much emotion for a woman’s baseball league.

I was only a kid when I first saw this movie, but I felt its importance even then. Seeing these women deal with the struggles of playing for an under-minded baseball league as they made their way to the big leagues was a tremendous experience. This movie gives you a glimpse into the challenges and barriers women faced especially in sports.

Back then, I wasn’t familiar with the big name A list actors and actresses, but I knew they were doing one hell of a job. Looking back,  for me, the stand-out star in the movie was Geena Davis.

Davis was a budding star on the silver screen, but I had no idea of the impact and inspiration of the women behind the movie. I just knew I was watching a memorable performance by a beautiful woman. Her portrayal of star baseball player Dottie Hinson was remarkable and will forever be one of my favorites.  Dottie Hinson’s character was inspired by real life female baseball player Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek.

Kamenshek played first base for the Rockford (Ill.) Peaches from 1943 to 1951 and again in 1953, and finished among the league’s top 10 career batting leaders, with an average of .292. She was named one of the top 100 female athletes of the century by Sports Illustrated, winning batting titles by hitting .316 in 1946 and .306 in 1947. Read Full Article NYTimes

Also, this was my first introduction to the acting talents of Tom Hanks who is now one of my favorite actors as well, and his work in Hollywood has been legendary. The supporting cast was made up of many big celebrity names who in 1992 were at the beginner of their careers. The biggest celebrity name on that list is mega-star Madonna, who played the role of Mae Morabito.

Mae and her chubby fun-loving friend played by Rosie O’Donnell were very memorable characters in the movie. Anne Cusack, Bill Pullman, and Jon Lovitz also played major roles in this classic hit. It’s simply a flawless picture from start to finish. If you haven’t seen this movie, I strongly suggest you make it the next movie you watch. This is a hit that definitely is a home run. Check out one of my favorite scenes. Enjoy!

Lance Armstrong: Classic Narcissist or Psychopath Maybe Both

by Deona Hooper, MSW

Lance Armstrong Interview w/Oprah

A media sandstorm was unleashed after Lance Armstrong did his tell all interview with Oprah on her cable network channel OWN this past Thursday night. The cloud of Armstrong using performance enhancing drugs during his seven Tour de France wins has loomed over the cyclist for almost 15 years. However, the allegations are now reality because Armstrong has finally admitted to doping in order to achieve his record wins.

Reporters, sports analysts, and former victims of Lance Armstrong have all used terms such as narcissist and/or psychopath to describe Armstrong’s behavior in conducting and protecting his doping scheme over the past decade. Lance Armstrong has built a reputation that has utilized tactics to literally destroy anyone both in character and financially who questioned, eluded, or reported any of his wrong doings. During  Armstrong’s  interview with Oprah, several videos were aired of Armstrong shaming and showing disdain for those who questioned his seven Tour de France wins.

We have seen this saga play out before with other high-profile athletes accused of using performance enhancing drugs to excel in their respective sport, but what makes this case different? The difference in this case is the manner in which Lance Armstrong went after his detractors. Armstrong and his team of lawyers destroyed anyone who dared to question his integrity. After all, Armstrong created the Livestrong Cancer Foundation in which he made sure the two could not be separated. Many have since stated that Armstrong used Livestrong as a shield because no one wanted to undermine the great work of the foundation. Is classic narcissist or psychopath a fair analysis of his past behavior and lack of remorse as described by many after watching the interview?

“He will give the impression that he is highly accomplished at anything and everything he does. He will always be right no matter what. Even if he is wrong, he will twist the truth so that he can assign blame to anyone or anything other than himself.” Lifescript. com How to Deal with Narcissistic Behavior

“Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.” The Mask of Sanity

View the video clips of Armstrong’s interview with Oprah, and you decide.

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