NEW YORK – It’s fashionable these days for high-profile athletes and coaches to align themselves with organizations that want to contribute to a worthy cause.
Many of them do not donate their time and money until they have established themselves in their respective sport. That’s understandable given the current economic climate. New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson and New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin are the exception to the rule, as they started to do so long before they made a name for themselves.
This past Tuesday evening in the Soho section of New York City, Tomlinson and his organization (Tomlinson’s Touching Lives Foundation), which he began while a member of the San Diego Chargers, were the recipient of a portrait by pop artist Bermano. The proceeds went to the foundation and the kids who attended the event will be guests of the Jets when they play their next home game.
Tomlinson had never heard of the artist when he was told Bermano had interest in doing a portrait. In fact, the artist from South Africa left his career as a Las Vegas boxing promoter (he still has his license) to embark on a new career. He started a little more than a year ago. He admitted that he does not know much about what he calls “American football” but when his people told him about LaDanian, he was captivated. “The only thing I ever heard about him actually is what a humanitarian he is,” Bermano began. “I don’t care what he does on the field. What I do care about is that he’s giving back to the community.”
LT was intrigued not only by his work but by the fact that he makes sure at least half of the proceeds of the sales goes to charity. Bermano has completed 43 paintings and has sold five for close to $60,000. “He reached out to us,” said LT of how they began the relationship. “We did some research and saw him give support to local people. He’s really involved in the community and we thought it was a great fit to do this.” LT could not avoid the inevitable football question as the Jets have a bye week after taking out his ex-team San Diego. With division games against Buffalo and New England coming up, he thinks the team is coming together at the right time. “We’re set up perfectly going into the second half of the season. Our confidence is high. We got two division games coming up that’s going to tell us where we stand the last half of the season.”
The former head coach of Boston College, Tom Coughlin began the Jay Fund Foundation in honor of Jay McGillis, who developed leukemia while playing for the football team. McGillis passed away on July 3, 1992 after playing 10 games the year before as the starting safety. The foundation provides emotional and financial support to families who been afflicted by the disease. The fund granted more than $500,000 last year. At the world famous Cipriani’s restaurant Friday night the “Champions for Children” hosted by WNBC’s sports anchor Bruce Beck event honored Steve Sabol, president of NFL films and Timothy H. Shinn, president and COE of United Crane Rentals. Sabol has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Coughlin was supported by present (Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs) and past (Sean Landetta, Howard Cross) New York Giants players. Coughlin pointed out how ex-Boston college players, some of whom play for the Giants, are very aware of the Jay Fund. “Chris Snee and Mathias Kiwanuka are interested in the Jay Fund and are interested in the Jay McGillis family.” Current Giant and former Boston College player Mark Herzlich almost lost a leg due to bone cancer. Not only did he overcome the disease but he made it all the way to the pros. Coughlin was quick to point out that he made the team on his talent and ability alone. “He made this football team on his own ability. Nobody gave him anything. He’s working as hard as he can to be better and better. His toughness comes pouring through. He’s a football player. He’s a physical, tough guy. That’s what we want.”
There is one main message that Coughlin and the Jay Fund wants to send to families that are dealing with cancer. “We’re here to help. We’re here for families who have children that have leukemia or other forms of cancer. They know they have a friend.”
Both LaDainian Tomlinson and Tom Coughlin were in the forefront of their foundations long before they attained the level of success they have. Something that future athletes and coaches should consider.