By Jack McLoone
Every year, during orientation, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, spends his address to incoming freshmen discussing the tenets of the Jesuits. Chief among them: men and women of Fordham are expected to be men and women for others.
In the sports world, athletes are often elevated to hero status. If you were to ask a middle-schooler who their hero was, mixed in among “my mom” and “my dad” you would get a lot of “LeBron James” and “Derek Jeter” and “Serena Williams” and other pro athletes. But more often than not, these athletes are viewed as heroes for their actions on the field.
One of Fordham University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council’s (SAAC) goals is to help student-athletes elevate themselves not on the field or court, but as people and as activists in the community.
“A large emphasis of what we do is getting our student-athletes out into the community,” said Danielle Padovano, a senior on the women’s basketball team and president of SAAC. “We are lucky to be supported by our community especially with the support we get from young kids from around the greater NYC area who come to our competitions. We do everything we can to give back.”
SAAC is composed of representatives from every varsity team at Fordham who are nominated by their coaches.
“SAAC reps are people who are looked at as leaders within the athletic department and do a great job of holding that responsibility,” said Padovano.
Coaches are in charge of setting a minimum number of community service hours that their players have to reach each year. SAAC keeps track of the hours the student-athletes put in. The numbers are also shared with the Atlantic 10, with all the teams in the conference competing to put in the most hours year to year.
Student-athletes can log their hours in a variety of ways, whether it be through doing community outreach work or attending events held by other student organizations on campus, such as the Special Olympics fashion show.
The SAAC executive board and the team representatives work to come up with various programs to give student-athletes opportunities to fulfill their hours. For the first time, this past year, they partnered with Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a pediatric cancer organization.
“Each year we have a toy drive after which we take a trip to the Maria Ferrari Children’s Hospital in Westchester to personally hand out our donations to the children who are suffering from all forms and in all stages of cancer,” said Padovano. “This is personally my favorite event. It is always a beautiful day.”
Another popular outreach program for Rams last year was weekly trips to the Saint Ignatius school in the Bronx, where the student-athletes would play with the students during recess.
SAAC also organizes a food drive around Thanksgiving every year for the Bronx food bank Part of the Solution (POTS).
While SAAC gives student-athletes opportunities for outreach through Fordham, there are some that take it upon themselves to reach out. For example, Manny Adeyeye, a senior on the football team, did an overnight stay at a homeless shelter through The Ansche Chesed synagogue.
“It was definitely a new experience for me,” said Adeyeye. “I got to interact with a homeless man face-to-face and was also able to assist him with sleeping and showering arrangements. I didn’t know what to expect of the guys at the shelter but they seemed to be normal human beings.”
The goals of any outreach program are two-fold: to help people in need, but also for those reaching out to gain a new perspective on life and grow as people.
“I learned a lot. Definitely not to judge someone by their economic status,” said Adeyeye. “We tend to label homelessness as the people we see with cardboard signs by streetlights thinking they are on drugs or smelly people sleeping on the train, but honestly a homeless person can be right next to you and you won’t even know it. All homeless people don’t dress in rags with no shoes, some are well educated and just can’t get themselves out of the hole they are in. My experience at this shelter changed my view on life.”
While SAAC has been a part of Fordham Athletics for a while, the push for more activism by the student-athletes has been a major point of emphasis recently. While there have been numerous events, there is still room to grow.
“SAAC does a pretty good job of making sure all of its members are pretty aware of any opportunities that we could have to do any activist work in the community,” said senior member of the football team and SAAC representative George Dawson. “I think Fordham could do a better job of promoting athlete activism because although we are very aware of things we can do in the community there are limited opportunities in which we actually get to go out and do things in the community. I think with the proper promotion, we would be able to act on more opportunities.”
Another favorite ideal of Fr. McShane’s is the idea of educating “the whole person.” Through community outreach, Fordham’s student-athletes are able to grow beyond just the classroom and the playing field. They can, as Padovano alluded to, become more deserving of the “hero” label sometimes placed on athletes:
“As athletes, we are recognized as role models for the youth in our communities and we take that responsibility with honor.”