Mississippi, often cited as the poorest state in the union, always ranks No. 1 or near the top in per capita philanthropy.
Perhaps our state motto should be: We ain’t got much, but we sure ’nuff give away plenty.
Seriously, given our history of philanthropy, it should come as no surprise that Mississippi’s professional athletes are among the most charitable in the land.
Take Saturday for example. These may be the dog days of the sports calendar, but there was much going on – goodwill-wise – in the metro area:
Eli Manning hosted an Evening with the Mannings Saturday night at the TelCom Center, a black-tie affair that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Blair E. Batson Hospital at University Medical Center.
Jerious Norwood hosted a free football camp for children at Brandon High School Saturday morning. The camp is an offshoot of Norwood’s Jerious Norwood Foundation, dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged and terminally ill children in Mississippi.
Sick kids find friend in Eli
Manning and Norwood aren’t alone. Brett Favre, Deuce McAllister, Steve McNair, Adalius Thomas and several other Mississippi athletes have foundations that raise money and then give back to the community.
The likes of Pacman Jones, Michael Vick and Rae Carruth may snare an inordinate amount of the headlines for what they haven’t done right, but Eli Manning believes “most people would be pleasantly surprised to learn how much professional athletes give back that you never hear that much about.”
Precious few give more than Manning, who chose the UMC children’s hospital as his primary beneficiary and is in the middle of a five-year, $2.5 million fund-raising effort. Manning’s relationship with the hospital dates back four years to when he was in between his senior year at Ole Miss and his rookie year with the Giants. Manning visited the hospital and what he saw blew him away.
“It’s hard seeing really sick children having such a difficult time,” Manning said. “You just want to try to lift their spirits any way you can, just help them have a good day or even a good moment.”
Dr. Dan Jones, UMC vice chancellor, was with Manning that day and remembers how “Eli connected with those kids on a very personal level. It was obvious how he really cared.
“Afterward, I thanked him for his time and told him about our plans for the future to improve our facilities,” Jones continued . “I told him I knew, because of his family background, he was going to be looking for charities to support and to keep us in mind.
“I’ll never forget what he said. He said, ‘I’m your man.'”
And he has been.
“I wanted to do something in Mississippi,” Manning said. “I wanted to do something for children. I got started with that when I was at Ole Miss and Coach Cut (David Cutcliffe) and I would go to kindergartens and read or to schools for mentally challenged kids. Plus, I grew up watching my dad do a lot of things for kids. The UMC children’s hospital just seemed like a natural for me.”