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The Globe and Mail

The activist athlete is no endangered species

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll founded A Better L.A. to fight gang violence.

© Gary Hershorn / Reuters/REUTERS

The question

My son is obsessed with the (often violent) NFL. I always hear about the charities of Hollywood actors, but I never seem to hear much about pro athletes. In sports like NFL pro football, do they engage in social activism?

The answer

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We're happy to report that many members of the pro sports world put as much energy into fighting for good causes as they put into spring training.

NFL coach Pete Carroll is tackling gang violence in L.A. and Seattle. His organization, A Better L.A. (and its new Seattle counterpart), is changing the lives of young people like Raphael Alexander.

At the age of 8, Raphael saw his oldest brother gunned down in a gang shooting in southern Los Angeles. Headed for a life in L.A.'s gangs, Raphael was intercepted by an outreach worker from A Better L.A., who convinced him to take part in a peewee football league. Now 12, Raphael is a star football player and an A student who has left gangs behind.

When we recently met Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, he was singing the praises of Mr. Carroll's work. Inspired by Mr. Carroll, Mr. Goodell believes the powerful brand of the NFL has immense capacity to be a force for good.

Since 2007, the NFL has contributed more than $200-million (U.S.) to improving youth health and wellness through its Play 60 program.

With the support of NFL players and coaches, the program is pushing young people to get active for at least 60 minutes every day.

We chatted with Seahawks players as we toured their training facilities with Mr. Goodell. Defying the stereotype of the rich, self-absorbed pro athlete, these guys were enthusiastic about making a difference.

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Closer to home, we attended a fundraising gala in Toronto last March where 33-year-old Theresa Schrader talked about how she was rescued through a scholarship from the charitable foundation of Mike "Pinball" Clemons, the former Toronto Argonauts player and coach.

After her father died, she turned to drugs and prostitution. She now attends George Brown College, with hopes of becoming a social worker.

Mr. Clemons works tirelessly to support scholarships and affordable housing, provide computers to children from low-income families, and bring education and clean water to African communities.

"That's Mike's heart. That's what he does all the time," says Natasha Borota, co-founder of Mr. Clemons's foundation.

Ms. Borota has a long list of other pro athletes she works with who are devoted do-gooders.

Linebacker Jordan Younger is a leading force in Huddle Up, the Argos' in-school bullying prevention program.

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After away games, Raptors centre Jamaal Magloire hops a flight home to Toronto to continue his work with kids.

Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs backs the Special Olympics.

This year the NHL and the NHL Players' Association launched a North American competition to reward young people who are making the biggest difference locally and globally. NHLers Zdeno Chara and John Tavares greeted the three winners at the All-Star Game in Ottawa in February.

Pro sports is no different than any group – you're going to get some bad apples.

But if your son loves the game as millions do, there are plenty of positive role models to match any activist Hollywood star.

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at and @craigkielburger on Twitter. Send questions to

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