July 18, 2014
NEW ORLEANS - While the summer months for a typical college student are reserved for rest, relaxation and maybe a trip or two to the beach, Tulane student-athletes don't tend to fall in the realm of `typical.'
Many of the Green Wave student-athletes have stayed on campus during the summer to take courses towards their degrees in addition to working out in their spare time in order to get a jump start on the 2014-15 athletic year.
But while many of these student-athletes are working towards bettering themselves, they are also spending a significant amount of time improving the community in which they call home during their time on the Uptown campus. Every Friday this summer - in addition to various times throughout the entire year - Green Wave student-athletes have traded their helmets, cleats, clubs, bats and balls for nail guns, paint brushes, shovels and anything else they can use to enhance their surroundings. Sometimes, tools are unnecessary, as visiting with those less fortunate could be what some of these student-athletes do with their free time.
On Wednesday, Athletes for Hope CEO Ivan Blumberg will visit with the Tulane football and women's basketball teams to educate, inspire and empower the programs into making a difference in the world. Athletes for Hope is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2007 by some of the world's most renowned athletes, such as Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, Warrick Dunn, Jeff Gordon, Mia Hamm, Tony Hawk, Andrea Jaeger, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Mario Lemieux, Alonzo Mourning and Cal Ripken, Jr. The group - who have all been the best-of-the-best in their respective sport at some point during their careers - created the organization with the hopes of showing other athletes that they too can make a positive change in the world that surrounds them.
One might question why Blumberg is coming to Tulane. Hundreds of Green Wave student-athletes have already committed to venturing out into the Greater New Orleans area during their down time to spend countless hours working in the hot, humid air that blows in off the Gulf of Mexico in order to create a better community.
Why would he come here to talk to these student-athletes about doing things they are already doing?
"We want to make sure that when the athletic community is doing community service that they are doing it in the smartest, most effective and most impactful way possible," said Blumberg.
Blumberg spans the globe for the organization that he has called home since its inception, visiting with the likes of professional athletes and Olympic athletes to inform them of the impact they can make in the world just by simply being an athlete. The jetsetter just left speaking to media relations executives of each of the 30 NBA franchises during the NBA summer meetings that coincide with the Las Vegas Summer League about the work their athletes can do during the summer and during down periods throughout the season. When Blumberg meets and speaks to groups like the one he just wrapped up with out in Las Vegas, he fully understands that many athletes are already performing community service. But like he previously stated, Blumberg wants athletes to know is that there is a smart, efficient way of doing things.
Prior to joining the organization, Blumberg had been involved in the world of athletics for quite some time, serving various legal roles for agencies that represent athletes. However, philanthropy is something that runs through his veins.
"For me, this is the ultimate win-win," mentioned Blumberg. "If we are able to empower a group of athletes to go out into the community to make a difference, it can make an exponentially positive impact. We will provide them with tools and education about making a difference and that is something they will carry on with them through the rest of their lives. It's extremely rewarding. We are a team at Athletes for Hope, and we thrive on making communities better by using the power of athletes to make that possible."
Even with all of the time he spends travelling to various locations around the world to speak to athletes, Blumberg still finds the time to serve on the Board of the Andre Agassi Foundation while also serving on the Board and as the volunteer Vice-Chairman of Hope and a Home, a charitable organization in the District of Columbia for at-risk families. He even runs a summer camp at his home in Maryland for underprivileged inner-city children.
While a majority of the work Athletes for Hope has done since its founding has been solely with professional and Olympic athletes, a new initiative arose late in 2013 that will allow athletes at the collegiate level to get in on the action.
"The Athletes for Hope-University Project grew out of the concept of work that we have done with professional and Olympic athletes for seven-and-a-half years," stated Blumberg.
The University of Virginia's athletic department was the first collegiate program to join forces with Athletes for Hope back in May.
Tulane University's athletic department will be the second collegiate program.
"We are very excited about this opportunity," said Blumberg. "Tulane is exactly the kind of university that we want to work with. They have placed such a tremendous amount of emphasis on community service, both with the student-athletes and with the entire student body. It is essentially part of the culture of the university community. Tulane is a perfect partner for us to work with. We will simply enhance all of the good work that is already being done."
With someone who has so much on his peripheral, and with there literally being hundreds of universities to choose from, how did Blumberg and Athletes for Hope come to the conclusion of adding Tulane as its second school?
Enter Gabe Feldman, the Director of the Tulane Sports Law Program and the Associate Provost for NCAA Compliance at Tulane. Feldman is one of the leading voices in the country in sports law, and he is regularly quoted in in a variety of the nation's leading publications in addition to making appearances on national radio and television programs regarding his profession.
Oh, and he is also on the Board of Directors at Athletes for Hope.
"This was an obvious fit for a few reasons," said Feldman. "Obviously, I'm on the Board of Directors (for Athletes for Hope), and I'm the Director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, but also, it really is just a perfect fit. There is a significant commitment to the community and to giving back (at Tulane). A part that makes Tulane athletics who they are is its commitment to make a difference in their community."
Obviously, with the catastrophic events that have impacted New Orleans in the last decade - like Hurricanes Issac and Gustav, and fortunately now to a lesser extent, Katrina -there are ample opportunities for the Tulane student-athletes to provide their time and resources in and around the city.
"I'm going to sound a little bit biased, but even if I were not on the faculty at Tulane, I think this would be a perfect fit because of everything that is already done here in terms of giving back," mentioned Feldman. "Our student-athletes are so focused on giving back that combining Tulane athletics with Athletes for Hope will really make a difference to New Orleans, Louisiana, and beyond."
Feldman spent some time with Tulane Director of Athletics Rick Dickson and Associate Athletic Director/SWA Sue Bower in March to propose a combination of the two entities. After many back-and-forth e-mails, meetings and phone calls, a time was finally hammered out to bring Blumberg to campus.
That time is Wednesday.
While Blumberg will spend the day with the aforementioned teams, running the programs through an interactive workshop the organization has designed, the relationship doesn't end there. The student-athletes will learn about particular issues and some basic tools about philanthropy. After that, the student-athletes will sign up to become members of Athletes for Hope, and finally, the organization will meet to discuss each team to find out what causes they would work best with in the Greater New Orleans community.
The hope is that a seed may be planted with the student-athletes so a relationship can be developed with the designated work each of them perform.
"The beauty of an organization like Athletes for Hope is that it's cause-agnostic," stated Feldman. "This is about finding what you are passionate about and finding what is meaningful for you and for us to connect you to something that you are passionate about."
Next summer, Blumberg will return to Tulane with another workshop designed to build on what the group has learned in the past year. And by then, hopefully other teams will join the cause.
One of the main focuses of the Athletes for Hope-University Project is something Blumberg will reiterate on a regular basis to the Green Wave student-athletes, as well as any future collegiate athletes that the organization can get ahold of.
"You don't have to be famous to make a difference," stated Blumberg, bluntly. "There is tremendous value to just your time."
Wednesday will certainly to be an exciting day for the Tulane athletics department and Athletes for Hope. For the student-athletes who will be participating in the workshops with Blumberg as opposed to learning their playbooks, taking classes or working out, the day is sure to be atypical.
To learn more about Athletes for Hope, please visit www.athletesforhope.org.