Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson and the White Sox organization are among the nominees for major community-service awards that will be presented at ESPN's third annual Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards on July 11 in Los Angeles.Granderson was nominated for the new Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award, which honors
Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson and the White Sox organization are among the nominees for major community-service awards that will be presented at ESPN's third annual Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards on July 11 in Los Angeles.
Granderson was nominated for the new Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award, which honors the legacy of the late boxer's impact on society. Granderson received MLB's highest community-service honor last year, the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet, as a result of his tireless work to help underserved youth in his native Chicago and beyond. Other nominees are golf legend Ernie Els, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.
The White Sox were nominated for the Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year, won last year by the San Francisco Giants. Other nominees are the Memphis Grizzlies, the New York City Football Club and the San Francisco 49ers. The White Sox are recognized for their Amateur City Elite (ACE) youth baseball program, which aims to reverse the declining interest and participation in baseball among African-Americans and to prepare each participant to succeed in life beyond the field.
"It's an honor for me to have my name attached to an award that bears Ali's name," Granderson said. "I read so much about his devotion to his community and how much he cared for kids. That's what I have tried to make my life about, too."
Since 2012, Granderson has hosted a month-long campaign every November entirely dedicated to solving the food insecurity epidemic. First in Chicago, the Grand Giving program later expanded to New York, and then nationally in 2017. Since its inception, the campaign has provided more than 3.5 million meals for hungry youth across the U.S. In an effort to get kids active and enjoy the game of baseball, Granderson helped build a new stadium on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Chicago, which enables 20,000 inner-city kids the opportunity to play each year.
"Because I have a platform as a Major League player, it gives me an opportunity to do great things for kids all across this country," Granderson said. "My name helps me do things that I probably couldn't do if I wasn't a player in the public spotlight. I will keep going as long as I can.
"I guess basic economics make it hard to get rid of child hunger. It's important to keep the effort going. I say to people, 'How do you expect kids to do well in school or think about a career or think about going to college if there is no food on the table? How would you like to go to or three days in a row without eating?' I know I wouldn't. I can tell you that."
The White Sox's ACE program serves a source of hope and inspiration in a city plagued by gun violence that often targets minority youth. There have been 143 ACE kids who have gone to college, and this year's signing will put that number over 150. Eighteen have been drafted, and that total was expected to go over 20 this week.
"It's definitely making a difference," said Kevin Coe, director of youth baseball initiatives for the White Sox. "Kids that wouldn't have the opportunity to go to college and play baseball at a major predominantly white university, they now have that opportunity. [On Saturday] I either texted or talked on the phone with 15 different college coaches about kids in our program. And all of the kids that they are asking about are kids that probably wouldn't have had this opportunity if it wasn't for the history of the White Sox."
"It's phenomenal. I love being a part of it. I look at myself as being a part of it because I used to coach in it. And you know, if this program was around when I was in high school, I would have been a perfect kid to play in it, you know what I mean? Poor family, didn't have a lot of money, loved to play baseball -- and I think it would have helped me immensely. I'm really excited about our future. It looks really bright with the kids we have in our program also."
Christine O'Reilly-Riordan, vice president of community relations and executive director of White Sox Charities, said the club continues to see robust numbers of kids participating in all their programs, from the Inner City Youth Baseball program through ACE.
"The fact that ACE kids are going to college on scholarships, being scouted and even signing with MLB teams has caught the attention of the younger players who aspire to those same opportunities," O'Reilly said. "We also benefit from great partners like the Chicago Park District that help create activities like the Play Ball Chicago tournament that takes during the summer. The event brings kids and families together for a weekend of baseball and family activities and showcases the fun and excitement baseball has to offer kids."
The League Humanitarian Leadership Award also will be given to a professional sports league in recognition of its ability to drive social impact. The winner will be able to direct a $100,000 grant from ESPN to the qualified charity related to the award-winning humanitarian efforts.
"Sports has the incredible ability to shape and influence society, said Kevin Martinez, vice president of ESPN Corporate Citizenship. "From Muhammad Ali to Jackie Robinson to Billie Jean King and so many more, athletes have used their unique platform to tackle pressing needs. These stories can be used to motivate, inspire and jump start those around the community to do the same, and we hope to inspire youth by showing them what greatness looks like and accountability means."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.