I never imagined that when I stumbled upon the Sport Philanthropy program at GW that it would lead to such good friends and so many great opportunities. So when I received an invitation to a community relations meeting at the NFL, followed by a day with SIGA, I jumped at the chance to head down to NYC. It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to have these kind of opportunities, which is exactly why I started documenting them – I’m big on legacy, and the opportunity to reflect on how far I have come in this crazy new life I have built for myself.
I haven’t had much of a vacation since we started Relate, and I have become so protective of my time, that I immediately tried to figure out how I could limit the days I’d be in NYC. Fortunately, I had met the wonderful Kelsey Trainor earlier this year, and she showed me the light by suggesting I come early to actually enjoy some down time in the city. That’s the thing about working for yourself – sometimes your mind is so clouded and focused at the task at hand that you forget to stop and smell the roses. I was completely missing how fortunate I was to be heading to NYC, that I was almost going to waste the opportunity to play tourist!
I flew into La Guardia and because I wasn’t rushed for time, I actually took a Super Shuttle, which is one of my favourite things to do in a new city. I’m already aware how odd that sounds, but I am obsessed with directions and understanding where I am at all times, so taking the shuttle is almost like a mini city tour for me. I can open up my map app and track where I am, so that I really get to know my way around – I suggest you give it a shot! I went straight to meet Kelsey and drop off my bags so that we could set out to wander around the Financial District, stopping for our first terrasse drink of the season and grab some NYC famous Joe’s Pizza before heading over to the 9/11 Museum.
While I had already been to the 9/11 Memorial, I have wanted to visit the Museum for years and was so grateful that I made the time to really take it all in. I took one picture, then put my phone away and for four hours immersed myself in a piece of history that I still remember as if it were yesterday.
The 9/11 Museum is beautiful…and heavy – just as it should be. It was built to serve as the country's principal institution concerned with exploring the implications of the events of 9/11, documenting the impact of those events and exploring 9/11's continuing significance. There has been much controversy of course - to build a museum Americans would consider sufficiently respectful to the victims and their families is a difficult task. Voicemails of victims realizing their plane had been hijacked, pictures of those jumping from the towers and pieces of burnt paper that fell from the sky are difficult to navigate, but still historically significant and need to be kept somewhere.
From Foundation Hall that houses a portion of the slurry wall (a surviving retaining wall of the original World Trade Center) and the Last Column, to Memorial Hall, that houses the installation Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning (which is composed of 2,983 individual watercolor drawings, commemorating the victims of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993, around Virgil’s quote), the 9/11 Museum is overwhelming.
No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time
I think you have to look at it in two ways. Both the Memorial Exhibition, located within the original footprint of the South Tower with pictures and bios of victims, and the Memorial - the empty spaces that reflect the loss the city and the country felt – are a beautiful show of respect to the lives lost. The Museum and exhibitions on the other hand, reflect the gravity of the tragedy and the need to preserve the historical significance of September 11th. I do believe it is important for future generations to understand and respect the severity of that day, along with the heroes, the faith, the community and the love that emerged.
Additionally, the special exhibition this year at the Museum is Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11. Given the theme, the Memorial Exhibition housed sport-related artefacts – from rollerblades, to varsity letters and tennis rackets, the curated items donated by families of the victims gave small insights into who they were. The larger exhibition focused on how sports gave the country a reason to cheer again:
On the eve of 9/11, American professional sports leagues were moving through their standard calendars. New York City had just hosted the most-watched women’s tennis final in U.S. Open history, with Venus Williams defeating her sister Serena. Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and NASCAR were moving toward championships. National Football League teams had played their first games of the season. And then, the normal rhythm of sports was broken. Stadiums sat empty. Teams could not fly. Most major sporting events were cancelled in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Teams, athletes, coaches and fans wondered when and how play should resume. “Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11,” a special exhibition at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, explores how sports and athletes helped to unite the country, consoled a grieving nation and gave us a reason to cheer again following the 2001 attacks.
A few Americans were surprised with how much I knew about 9/11 and that I cared so much about something that happened in another country. I’m Canadian - a Montrealer – and we share a border with New York, and while it was an attack on US soil, it hit very close to home – literally and figuratively. We’re neighbours, and the neighbourly thing to do is to care - it was a shared sadness. I was 16 and had to deliver the attendance sheet to our guidance office, walking in to find our teacher in shock as she listened to the news reports of the first plane hitting the tower on the radio. I couldn’t understand. She encouraged me to stay and listen, which of course meant I heard the second plane hit. I hadn’t really yet heard the term terrorism, so when the news began repeating that this was a terrorist attack, I was still trying to wrap my head around what that meant. Of all subjects, I had to return to my World History class to deliver the news of what was happening just an hour south of the border. Our next period was Journalism, and I will always be grateful for what our teacher did - he told us he remembered exactly where he was when JFK was shot, so we were going to spend the class listening to the news on the radio, because we will never forget where we were on this day. And was he ever right.
So where do you go from there? With heavy hearts, Kelsey and I continued our tour of the Financial District and subsequent history lessons, checking out the Fearless Girl, who now stands across from the Stock Exchange (and massive Levi’s ad, which honestly kind of loses the appeal), then off to Stone Street and Fraunces. I love a good historical pub, and Fraunces did not disappoint – built in 1719 and bought in 1762 by Samuel Fraunces who turned the building into a tavern, Fraunces has seen a lot of American history. Most notably (and from the Fraunces Tavern Museum archives), on December 4, 1783, nine days after the last British soldiers left American soil, George Washington invited the officers of the Continental Army to join him in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern to bid them farewell.
In one of my new favourite neighbourhoods in NYC, I sipped my Balvenie Doublewood, cheers’ed new and old friends, and slipped into the Dead Rabbit (apparently the world's best bar) for a nightcap before two full days of sport philanthropy.
First thing Monday morning, I was off to the NFL head office on Park Ave to discuss Community Relations amongst some of the major leagues, including MLB and NHL. I love to sit back and listen to these kinds of conversations because I find myself in the fortunate position of being involved in all levels of sport, so I often try to figure out how to remove silos and encourage collaboration. We discussed initiatives at the league level, and how those are pushed down through the teams and then subsequently on to the athletes. My main concern remains the same, how can we better support sport philanthropy so that athletes, teams and leagues not only strategically apply philanthropic initiatives, but also know where to start?
My sense is that ‘doing good’ and charity are often thought of as a nice to have, and never really seen as an area to be strategic about or taken very seriously. Charitable endeavours can become a nightmare when not done effectively - you can end up with tax issues, get yourself into some unethical situations and seriously risk your brand. So where do we go from here? How do we better support leagues, teams and athletes? This meeting was just the first in what will be a series of meetings to answer those questions.
Next up was the Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) Sport Integrity Forum. The Forum was held at the prestigious New York Athletic Club, directly across the street from Central Park, offering up the most incredible view! I was first introduced to SIGA in the UK last year and have been following their work ever since. While sport does a lot of good in the world, it also does a lot of bad. Corruption, human trafficking, abuse, and match fixing (to name a few) are all part of the awful side of sports - the areas that we need to aggressively tackle to keep sport safe and accessible, and that is where SIGA comes in. The Forum was their first foray into America, and like most instances, America means the US. This disappointed me because Canada has been making significant strides in safe sport and is worthy of being included in the conversation and ensuring that there is a strong SIGA presence north of the border as well – something that my fellow Montrealer Rebecca Khoury is staying on top of! This is why these events and conversations are so important – we have to work towards removing silos and barriers in sport, avoid duplication of efforts and be more collaborative in finding global solutions. This Forum was a great step in that direction with participants from all around the world, discussing everything from keeping corruption and crime out of sport, to global business and sport integrity, to human trafficking and child protection in sport. My personal interest is ensuring that philanthropic support of sport is seen as transparent, ethical and legal – a space that hasn’t really yet been given much consideration.
My trip ended by catching up with some familiar faces from my GW family, something I have come to appreciate so much from my experience with the program, and that I’m so grateful to Lisa Delpy-Neirotti (our GW program director who is so smart, successful and very well connected), for always ensuring that we are included in the work to drive the advancement of sport philanthropy. One of my other favourite finds from the GW program who is based in NYC is the wonderfully talented Alycia Powell, co-founder of Champions for Philanthropy. Any time we get together or catch up is good for my soul, because I cannot emphasize how incredible it is to have female sport philanthropy entrepreneurs in my life, especially one like her. I’m always sad to leave NYC, but I was off to Toronto for a WISE event, which is a story for another time…