While he may not be Jon Bon Jovi or Bill Bradley or Joyce Kilmer or even Bruce Springsteen, there are few pop cultural icons from New Jersey who are more recognizable to the general public that ESPN personality Dick Vitale. The basketball Hall of Fame member and former Rutgers and East Rutherford High School coach has really been a pioneer in sports broadcasting, inflicting his opinion, style and flamboyancy on millions of college basketball fans and consumers for decades. There is not a sports bar or campus in America where Vitale would not just e recognized, he would be mobbed by adoring fans and supporters who either love him or love to hate his style. He is a new jersey media success story for the long term that makes the infamous faces of “Real Housewives” or “Jersey Shore” look like what they are…a short term group of personalities long on flamboyance but way short on substance.
So there will be some who say Vitale is short on substance as well. He boats, he mispronounces, he exploits an opinion, and he moves on to the next college sports event. Nothing could e further from the truth. Those who know the Jersey native talk about his endless sense of giving back, his loyalty to friends who knew him “when,” and his unfailing devotion to family. Now, as he enters the latest stage of his career, Vitale has included ill children in that mix, and has made it his latest quest to help raise large amounts of funds to assist in eradicating pediatric cancer.
Friday Vitale will be honored at the Brownstone in Paterson, New Jersey to raise money for The V Foundation. The “Welcome Home Dick Vitale” will unite all the Garden State faces of his past with his new focus, with the dollars going to the most critical of causes for the 72 year old. The dinner will be hosted by ESPN’s Bob Ley, with Notre Dame coach Mike Brey as the guest speaker, and it will be the next step in Vitale’s crusade against the ills affecting children..
“I am obsessed with helping battle pediatric cancer. My life has been so blessed. I have five grand kids of my own. We have gone and done so many children’s hospital visits and you see the parents and these kids facing such terrible illnesses and your heart goes out,” he said on a call last month. “We need more research, so that maybe there is one young person, one family, whose lives are made easier not just now but forever. That is part of what we all have to do, give back to help kids and that next generation. It’s our legacy. For all the talking we do and the impact we want to make, there is nothing better than seeing the smile on a child’s face. You can’t measure that in any way possible.”
In addition to the scores who will come to fete the native son tonight and raise awareness, thousands of other will assist the cause by purchasing Vitales’s latest book, a kids book called Dickie V’s ABCs and 1-2-3’s. Unlike his previous published works, this is geared to ages 2-6 to encourage reading and learning, with some audio (of course) from Vitale himself. Every dollar Vitale receives from the book will also go to fight Pediatric Cancer. The book can be found at Amazon, in bookstores and at ascendbooks.com, and photos of the kids he has helped are posted at DickVitaleonline.com.
He is not the prettiest, the smartest, or even the noblest representative of New Jersey. But few can match the passion, the excitement and the commitment to purpose of Vitale, a self-made brand ambassador now aspiring to a higher good almost fulltime for those around him. The life lessons he is teaching, no matter how brash, are great examples of what a life in the limelight can lead to for the greater good. It is a cause that those others in fame can learn from, and one that in his own words is “Just Awesome Baby”!