Arizona Cardinal Larry Fitzgerald weaves around opponents like the Artful Dodger in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” As one of the greatest wide receivers in the NFL, he uses his speed, training and athleticism to deliver the ball to the end zone. But off the field, No. 11 doesn’t cut corners when he’s giving back to our community.
Fitzgerald lends his name, time and resources to numerous charities and fundraising efforts, such as the Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund that supports summer youth programs, as well as families and children in need. He’s also involved with the eponymous Larry Fitzgerald Youth Football ProCamp that helps kids develop their football skills.
In addition, the All-American and Pro-Bowler has been a volunteer and mentor for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona (BBBSAZ) for the last 10 years, a commitment that earned him the 2014 Common Good Award at the organization’s 60th anniversary gala held in April.
His notoriety as a professional athlete makes Fitzgerald a household name, but his philanthropic qualities are just a natural extension of how he was raised and not an expected product of his day job.
“It has nothing to do with football,” says Fitzgerald. “Growing up in Minnesota, it was ingrained in me to affect people in a positive way. When I was a kid, my mother, in particular, influenced me. She was a major advocate for others, so I constantly saw that dedication demonstrated, from supporting those with AIDS to many other community causes.”
The aptly named “common good” recognition suits Fitzgerald’s philosophy about the importance of doing right by others, regardless of who you are or what you do for a living. And he challenges everyone to get involved.
“We are all able to do the right thing. It doesn’t matter your occupation, color or gender. I don’t do anything differently because of what I happen to do for a living. Kindness goes a long way. If we all did something to make a difference, whatever it is, we could collectively make our community stronger.”
A longtime supporter of youth programs, Fitzgerald’s role as a Big Brother for BBBSAZ and helping raise awareness about the organization’s goals has been a meaningful journey with many defining moments.
“It’s not a forced relationship,” he says of the mentoring experience. “Seeing the interaction between all of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters (“Bigs”) and the Little Brothers and Little Sisters (“Littles”) has been particularly beautiful.”
Yet, his hope is that one day soon he can walk into the BBBSAZ office and find he and his fellow mentors out of a job.
“It will make me the most happy when there are a lot of Bigs waiting and not enough Littles to fill those roles.”
Written by Sally J. Clasen
Photography by Mark Lipczynski