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 #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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