What do Tony Hawk, the San Francisco 49ers, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the State of New Jersey have in common? Philanthropy. While the quartet have probably never come up in casual conversation before, they did this past week when The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation bestowed the Stave Patterson Award on its three winners here in the Garden State.
The annual award, which celebrates and promotes those in the sports world who are improving lives by leveraging the unique influence of sports reads like a who’s who of sporting pioneers, all of whom are unwavering in their commitment to give back to their communities. It was established in 2005 in memory of Steve Patterson, the UCLA basketball star, NBA player, and college coach who became known for his belief in and practice of using the power of sports philanthropy to make a difference. Patterson died of cancer in July 2004 at the age of 56.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation opened the doors of its Princeton, N.J. headquarters to the sports philanthropy community Wednesday for an event that featured the award ceremony, educational roundtables, and networking. In the end it was a day of celebration for all good in sports, from the work the 49ers do in The Bay Area to the legacy events and programs still being funded by those who created one of the most successful Olympic Games in history to a pioneer in skateboarding whose work now goes to help others enjoy his sport and learn from those around them in the community.
In a time when so much of sport is about failure and corruption, the RWJF continues to find ways to celebrate the positive aspects of sport, whether they are in our backyard or around the world.
“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Steve Patterson Award embody what we strive for at the 49ers Foundation, and that’s to improve our community by using sports as a platform to connect with other things that make the Bay Area a better place,” said John York, chairman of the 49ers Foundation and co-chairman of the 49ers. “To be recognized for the difference we make in the community, through the interactions and connections of our players, coaches, family and fans, is truly an honor.”
For Hawk, the award held even greater meaning for a young man still near the top of his game who has taken the time to use his skill, and his influence the way he knows best; by empowering young people through the Tony Hawk Foundation…the ONLY national organization focused solely on assisting at-risk youth and improving disadvantaged communities through the development of public skateboard parks. Since 2002, THF has implemented youth development and leadership training, resulting in the creation of 537 public skate parks in all 50 states. These skate parks collectively service more than 4.6 million youth annually and represent $91 million in leveraged parks-and-recreation community improvements across the United States.
“Creating this type of program is something that growing up I never dreamed of,” Hawk added. “There were no examples of skateboarders giving back because the sport was so relatively new; we had to go out and build the sport and then find ways to make sure that we sustained it and then used all we had done to help young people so that they would have a positive model to follow. So far it appears to be working, and we are elated to receive this award.”
It is a unique mix, from skateboarding to successful franchises to a legacy created almost 30 years ago, but the ties are clear. Use sport as a tool to better society, no matter what the price tag. That message is amplified even more by the dollars that RWJF puts behind the program annually, a key part of giving back not just to sport but to the positive messages it sends across the state in calls home. After all that is probably the best way philanthropy can be used tied to sport, an overlay of international, national and local partnerships, marrying legacy programs to those that youth can relate to today. All those efforts were summed up on a nice September day in the heart of Big Pharma country, with the results resonating far beyond Princeton. Beautiful program, beautiful effort, beautiful rewards, and a beautiful legacy for all involved to show how winning in sport goes way beyond the playing field. Role models like these are the ones we need.