By Ken Reed
Every year at this time, Major League Baseball hands out a ton of awards for on-field performance during the prior season. It’s certainly interesting to see who wins these awards. Witnessing and acknowledging outstanding athletic achievements is one of the reasons we’re all drawn to sports.
However, the award I look forward to the most each offseason is the Branch Rickey Award.
The Branch Rickey Award is named after the long-time Major League Baseball executive who was selected the most influential person in sports during the 20th century by ESPN’s Sports Century panel.
Not only did Rickey break the color barrier in baseball by signing African-American Jackie Robinson, he also was a pioneer in signing players from Latin America. In fact, he signed the first Latin American player to make the Hall of Fame, Roberto Clemente. In addition, he spearheaded the development of the “Knot Hole Gang,” which offered kids who couldn’t afford a ticket a chance to attend Major League games. Rickey also created the minor league farm system in baseball and introduced statistical analysis to the game – long before Billy Beane and Moneyball came along.
Foremost, however, Rickey was a humanitarian.
“The thing about him was that he was always doing something for someone else,” said Jackie Robinson.
The Branch Rickey Award, created by the Rotary Club of Denver, honors the baseball humanitarian of the year. It’s consistent with the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self.”
This past Friday, the 2014 Rickey Award winner, Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs was honored. Rizzo was drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in 2007. He got off to a good start in the minor leagues but in May of 2008 he was hit with the shocking news that he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer originating in the white blood cells. He fought through six months of chemotherapy and then received the good news that his cancer was in remission. After months of building his body back up, he continued his quest to reach the major leagues.
In 2012, he debuted in a National League game while with the San Diego Padres. He was then traded to the Chicago Cubs. This past season, Rizzo received 8,800,000 votes from fans across the country to earn a spot on the National League All-Star team. He finished the season with 32 home runs and signed a seven-year contract with the Cubs.
In 2012, Rizzo and his family started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation to raise money for cancer research and to support children and families fighting the disease. Rizzo is a frequent visitor to children’s hospitals to talk with pediatric cancer patients. He also reaches out to young cancer patients by phone. His primary message is if he was able to beat cancer, then they can too.
“When I was still going through the chemotherapy, I was talking with my mom, dad and older brother and I just said after this we could build a foundation and do something special,” says Rizzo. “To be able to touch anyone and positively impact their lives is priceless, it really is.”
Rizzo’s foundation held its third “Walk Off for Cancer” on Sunday. The foundation has also held two “Cook Offs for Cancer.” Together, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has raised close to $700,000 for cancer research and patient support programs in just two years.
“I grew up in a service-oriented family,” says Rizzo. “My parents, grandparents, and older brother were always doing things for others. Always, always, always. The message was always ‘Help other people.’”
Rizzo is not only excited about the future of his foundation, he’s bullish on the future of the Chicago Cubs.
“We’re all very young,” says Rizzo. “We’re going to learn together. We’re going to win together. We’re going to lose together. We’re going to get in trouble together. And eventually, we’re going to have success together.”
But ultimately, Rizzo realizes it’s the impact he has on other people, not his on-field accomplishments, that will truly last. Rizzo says:
“In baseball you’re going to be who you are. Your performance will be what it is. But when you’re done playing, you’re done playing.
“If a guy wasn’t a good player, but he was a great teammate, a great clubhouse guy, everyone will remember him. If a guy was a great player but he wasn’t a great teammate or clubhouse guy, no one will remember him. He just kind of fades away.
“You always want to be a good person, and basically that’s what my family has taught me.”
As Branch Rickey once said, “It is not the honor that you take with you, but the heritage you leave behind.”
Anthony Rizzo is all-in with that sentiment.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered and got to know well, like Muhammad Ali, as well as his relationships with fellow sports journalists like Bob Costas and Howard Cosell.
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Episode #16 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Andrew Maraniss: Outstanding Author of Books That Focus On the Intersection of Sports, History and Social Justice.
Episode #15 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Psychology with Dr. Tim Rice. We discuss the growth of sports psychology at all levels, the positive impact that a number of high profile athletes have had by opening up, and the importance of everyone involved in sports caring for the whole athlete, mind and body.
Episode #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – Gary McCoy is a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations.
Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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