More often than not, the media present the physical, mental, and social benefits of competitive or recreational sport as the reasons why athletes play. What often goes unnoticed in the world of athletics is the strong impact that sports teams, leagues, and individual athletes have on the community outside the rink, court, or pitch.
Professional sports organizations like the NFL, NHL, and MLB give millions of dollars annually to various national and local charities through various funds and foundations. Toronto — home to local favourites such as the Maple Leafs, the Raptors, and the Blue Jays — makes significant financial contributions to local charities.
In the last 15 years, the Leafs’ Fund and the Raptors Fund (hockey and basketball fundraising organizations) have raised over $30 million through initiatives for at risk groups since their establishment over 15 years ago. In 2014, Jays Care Foundation (Blue Jays baseball fundraising organization) raised over $400,000 for various Toronto youth initiatives.
In addition to the millions of dollars given to charities by these athletic organizations, many individual athletes on these teams volunteer their time to various communities. It is not uncommon to see Leafs, Jays, and Raptors players spending time at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital, signing autographs, playing games, and interacting with the children.
Giving back isn’t just for the big leagues though. U of T’s very own Varsity Blues are certainly not new to the idea of giving back to their community.
Recently, the Varsity Blues’ women’s hockey team hosted a Holiday Toy Toss event at their game on November 27. The toy toss marked the fourth anniversary of the event for the hockey program. This program collects hundreds of toys and food items for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) food bank, which helps families and individuals in need at the St. George campus.
For the Varsity Blues Athletes their commitment to their community goes beyond individual events that take place just a few times a year. Earlier this month, the U of T Athletic department launched the Blues Buddy Up program. The program, which was created and designed by varsity athletes, is based on the BLUES philosophy: Believe, Learn, Understand, Excel, and Succeed. It places student athletes in elementary schools around the City of Toronto to mentor kids in grades four through six, with the goal of developing the children’s leadership and interpersonal skills. In an interview with the Blues’ on November 2, Beth Ali, director of intercollegiate and high performance sport and acting assistant dean of U of T’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, praised the program saying, “To see [Blue’s Athletes] give back to the community this way is the definition of leadership.”
Ali couldn’t have said it any better. The demands on student athletes to devote time to their respective sport is often a large commitment in itself, but giving even more time to help their local community is nothing short of impressive.