Spreading holiday cheer
For some players, December is our time to give back
Posted: Friday December 7, 2007 1:02PM; Updated: Friday December 7, 2007 1:02PM
For professional tennis players, December is the rarest of opportunities to rest and regroup after a grueling 11-month season. You'd think most of us would be lying on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, sipping margaritas. But you'd be dead wrong.
Many players use the short offseason to devote themselves to the charitable foundations they've set up in order to give back to a host of causes that resonate with them. Andy Roddick and James Blake are straight off their exhilarating Davis Cup victory last weekend. But instead of resting up, they've gone full into their annual charity events.
On Thursday night, Blake hosted the third annual AnthemLIVE!, benefiting the Thomas Blake Sr. Memorial Research Fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in and around New York City.
"I planned on doing it just one year as a tribute to my father [who passed away in 2004 from stomach cancer], but it had so much success and I had such a good time that I decided to make it an annual event," he told me.
The event is held at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and combines exhibition tennis and a live concert. The past few years have benefited from the participation of the likes of Andre Agassi playing and Gavin DeGraw and John Mayer performing. This year, Blake had another all-star cast with Mardy Fish, Serena Williams and Tatiana Golovin playing tennis.
"The purpose of our fund is to raise vital resources to aid in the research that will help in identifying cancer early," Blake said. "My father was an extraordinary man, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to give back and honor his memory."
Roddick is also putting in a yeomen's effort into raising money for the Andy Roddick Foundation, which benefits local children's charities. "We've raised more than $7 million so far and we're on pace for an additional $3 million this year," Andy says. "I'm more proud of what we have accomplished with this foundation than anything I've done on the tennis court.
The Andy Roddick Foundation has its event this weekend in Boca Raton, Fla., and features Blake and Maria Sharapova. That's on the back of the foundation's charity gala in October in Austin, Texas, where, as Roddick said, "Elton John sang his heart out. I feel blessed to be in the position to positively affect the lives of others."
While I'm obviously significantly lower in profile, I also have a cause that is very close to my heart. In 1998, I started the Justin Gimelstob Children's Fund with the mission to provide financial support to a variety of children's charities and related causes in Northern New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area. The primary recipient of our '07 tennis exhibition is the Valerie Fund, a non-profit organization for children with cancer and blood disorders.
This year, we have an outstanding group of players competing in an assortment of tennis festivities at the Center Court Tennis Club in Chatham, N.J. On Sunday, we have the participation portion of our event, with kids' clinics and a pro-am featuring Mary Joe Fernandez, Pat McEnroe and a host of other former and current players.
On Dec. 13, we have the exhibition portion of the event. Former Miss New Jersey USA Erin Abrahamson will sing the national anthem, and personalities such as TV journalist Stone Phillips, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and sports radio's "Mad Dog" Chris Russo will be participating. Later on, I'll be squaring off against John McEnroe in a singles match.
We also have unique auction items up for bid, such as a lesson with Pete Sampras or Venus Williams, the opportunity to be the guest of Roddick and the Bryan brothers at the U.S. Open, and signed rackets from top players, including Roger Federer, Sampras and Agassi.
This all may sound like a personal shill, but it's the result of a lot of hard work players like Roddick, Blake, Fish, Justine Henin -- and former players like Agassi, Steffi Graf, Jim Courier, Chris Evert and me -- have put in to give back. Professional athletes have a unique opportunity and forum to raise awareness for important causes. We get to travel the world playing a sport we love and are very fortunate.
With that kind of privilege, we also have a responsibility to positively effect change, and I speak for all of us when I say we all take that responsibility very seriously.
Former ATP pro Justin Gimelstob writes on alternate Fridays for SI.com.