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By Mark F. Gray

Often maligned as a group of overpaid, selfish, gun carrying, narcissistic, “goofballs”, Black athletes have been painted on a societal canvas by the mainstream media militia as anything but conscious or caring. Even some Black leaders have chosen to pile on by focusing on a “culture of violence” amongst some who make headlines in the “if it bleeds it leads” world of 24 hour cyber-tabloid journalism.

However, since the devastating earthquake leveled Haiti many of the leaders in front of the American relief efforts are of these same Black athletes who have been branded unfavorably. When George Clooney organizes a telethon or Sandra Bullock gives $1 million dollars to relief efforts its big news. That the NFL Players and NBA Players Association’s pledge $2 million between them is nothing more than a crawl at the bottom of the TV screen and overlooked by the same news gathering organizations who were parked outside D.C. Superior Court for the Gilbert Arenas gun possession hearing.

Miami Heat legend Alonzo Mourning and their current superstar Dwayne Wade co-founded a Haitian earthquake relief fund that targeted pro athletes. The Athletes Relief Fund for Haiti was launched two days after the disaster. Wade established it with a game check of $175,000. Mourning, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul followed with commitments of $100,000 apiece. NFL Players such as Clinton Portis, Michael Vick, Terrell Owens, and Donte’ Stallworth reportedly made contributions as well. As of Monday they had raised $800,000 in donations from athletes alone.

Mourning was one of the first on the ground in Port Au Prince and spent 36 hours assisting rescue workers in the aftermath delivering supplies such as water food, and medical equipment to temporary hospitals that had been set up.

“It is the most devastating, deplorable images I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mourning said Monday in Memphis where he collected the National Civil Rights Museum’s Sports Legacy Award. “[An] inhumane atmosphere to where we can only pray and do the best we can to assist those individuals”.

For a nation that was already impoverished and dealing with the remnants of hurricanes from years gone by the earthquake has changed lives and altered generations. Many of those lives can be traced to the pro sports community in United States. There are approximately 15 prominent first generation Haitian-American born athletes many who have been a part of the NFL Playoffs.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon will play pivotal roles in their team’s chances to make the Super Bowl in conference championship games this weekend.

Boxer Andre Berto cancelled the biggest fight of his career against Shane Mosley because of the mental and physical exhaustion brought on by the stress of his family’s situation. Berto lost eight members of his family in the earthquake and has since returned to Port Au Prince to participate in the relief effort. Many of the Haitian players were already doing their best to take care of family by sending money home to loved ones because of the daily crisis in the country before the earthquake struck.

“In a strange way the earthquake may have actually been a blessing,” said Haitian-American former NBA center Olden Polynice on The SportsGroove Radio Program on WOL-AM in DC. “It may now bring focus to a place that has been forgotten by the rest of the world until now”.

Polynice is one of the many current and former pro athletes who are first generation born children of Haitian immigrants. In 1993 he was one of the most visible and outspoken critics of the United States policy of housing Haitians who were infected with the HIV virus at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which denied them entry into the country. Polynice, along with activists such as Randall Robinson, participated in a hunger strike to bring attention to that crisis which fell on deaf ears throughout the world.

Black athletes have immediately stepped up and made contributions of time, money, and effort during the Haitian crisis. With prominent $45 million per year talk show hosts making no commitment and other religious leaders blaming the country for “making a pact with the devil”, this catastrophe has awakened a new humanitarian commitment from pro athletes.

Its unfortunate their efforts aren’t being applauded with the same passion as when they score.