Date: June 11, 2012
National Football League greats Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason, recent retiree Jason Taylor and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning are known for their prowess on the gridiron and authoring indelible memories for multiple generations of fans, but it’s their dedication to tackling what plagues children in this country that is making an immeasurable impact.
On Monday, June 4, Yahoo! Contributor Network sat down with the pro football quartet at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, where the 11th annual Samsung Hope for Children Gala was held, to discuss their respective charitable organizations and the work being done to combat childhood illnesses and provide disadvantaged youths with the tools they need to attain an education.
For more than a decade, the star-studded annual event has been raising money for high-profile charities, including The Boomer Esiason Foundation, which supports more than 30,000 people in the U.S. afflicted with cystic fibrosis.
“We were the original charity that Samsung selected 11 years ago, and when I sat down with the people that were making the decision, I told them why I thought it was important that we would be involved,” Esiason, the 1988 NFL MVP, said. “Over the years, through their partnership, we’ve raised over $1.5 million with Samsung.
“Interestingly enough, when my son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis back in 1993, I had just been traded to the New York Jets and there was a real situation that developed as to whether or not we wanted to expose our family, in particular him, at the age of 2, to that kind of scrutiny that there was something wrong with him. And I think it was really because of two reasons: 1) cystic fibrosis, while they’ve had national advocates, they’ve never had anybody who was a quarterback of a New York football team, and that is a huge, huge platform; and 2), it was about the time where people started to come forward with things, to make sure that people like my son, Gunner, who were disadvantaged and disabled, had somebody out there advocating for them. Those two things outweighed any of the negatives.”
What Esiason experienced wasn’t totally unique amongst the elite AFC quarterbacks of the 1980s and ’90s. Autism, defined as a “pervasive developmental disorder of children,” hit very close to home for Dan Marino, who was the Miami Dolphins’ play-caller for his entire 16-year career (1983-99).
“What we do [at The Dan Marino Foundation] is try to help kids through outreach programs and we built a hospital for kids with developmental disabilities. My son, Michael, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old,” the nine-time Pro-Bowler said. “He’s 23 now, and he’s doing good; he graduated from school. So he’s one of the kids that have been very fortunate, and I just always thought that I would like to try to help other families that might not have the same opportunity that Michael had.”
Marino, whose foundation has raised over $30 million since its founding in 1992, admitted to never having heard of autism before his son’s diagnosis.
“It’s been a long time for [my wife] Claire and I, but the first thing is, ‘Okay, what is it? … I’m going to do anything for my child, to give him the best chance he can to be successful in life,’” he said. “For me, I had no idea what autism was. Didn’t know. We were kind of in the learning experience as we were going through it at the same time.
“We have a hospital now, for kids, in Weston, Fla., and they see a bunch of kids every month … 5,000 to 6,500 a month,” he added. “That’s a lot. And so the best thing, for me, is when a parent or a dad comes up and says, ‘Hey, you know what? This has really helped us.’ It makes you feel great, because you’re doing something and you’re making a difference.”
Marino introduced former Dolphins teammate and fellow Pittsburgh native Jason Taylor to Samsung’s philanthropic gala several years ago. Initially an attendee of the event, the five-time All-Pro defensive end/linebacker went on to start the Read to Succeed Initiative in conjunction with Steven Douglas Associates, for the benefit of the Jason Taylor Reading Room, a free-of-cost after-school program for “under-served middle and high school students,” according to the organization’s website.
“Growing up, I was always involved, through our church, with children’s charities,” said Taylor, who founded his eponymous foundation in 2004 with his wife, Katina. “While we’ve all had our struggles in some way or another, there’s nothing like looking at young children that can’t fend for themselves, that, for no fault of their own, are dealing with something. It really pulls at your heartstrings.”
For the past two years, the South Korean conglomerate has aided the Reading Room’s efforts in New York City.
“Anything and everything that we can do to help those kids out–not only kids with ailments, but also kids that are not given the opportunities, that are behind the 8-ball a little bit, not really given the proper education, proper guide, proper opportunities–that’s what really drives me and our efforts through the foundation,” said Taylor, who spent the 2010-11 season with the Jets. “We’re trying to do the right thing, we’re trying to help kids out in the right way and a very positive manner; teach kids to be able to fend for themselves in the future and be productive citizens in our society.”
Eli Manning at the 2012 Hope for Children charity event.
Two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning is equally as passionate about childhood education and health, partnering with Samsung through the Mississippi-based Friends of Children’s Hospital, a non-profit organization created to support the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“I heard about Hope for Children and the fact that they raise awareness and funds to help children who are sick and their overall health, but also in the education of children and giving different schools the technology that they need to have a higher learning experience,” Big Blue’s QB said. “I work with them, giving several different schools computers, different technology, to help [kids'] learning process.
“When you’re dealing with the education of children, second just to the health of children, that’s so important. When kids are getting enough exercise, physical activity, their academics will go up as well. This country, and seeing some of the stats showing that we are falling behind, we gotta work on that and make sure our schools are doing the right thing, parents and children are all working hard to make sure that they’re staying above the curve and doing anything to have success in this life.”
Looking beyond their football-related accomplishments, Esiason, Marino, Taylor and Manning are simply four success stories paying it forward.
“I think none of us who’ve had success in life and gotten to a certain place in life have done it by ourselves,” Taylor candidly said. “There’s always someone who’s helped us out along the way, and I think it’s incumbent on us to remember that, to recognize those people and remember those people, and in turn help somebody else out the same way we were helped out.”