Trips to Africa have led Kershaw to count his blessings—including the 2011 NL Cy Young award and a contract worth $7.5 million this year and $11 million in 2013. "It's tough to see the poverty and living conditions," he says. "But the positive side is how joyful these people are if they have food, water and shelter. I want to give that to others—the basic needs that we take for granted."
Kershaw donates $100 to the Challenge for each of his strikeouts, and asks fans to contribute as well. The charity also supports L.A.'s Peacock Foundation, which provides mental health services to at-risk teens; the Mercy Street youth ministry in Clayton and Ellen's hometown of Dallas; and an evangelical movement called I Am Second. Thanks to such efforts, in October, Kershaw received the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award, baseball's top humanitarian honor. The typical winner has been in his mid-30s; Kershaw is 24. "I've been fortunate to be able to start playing baseball at the big league level at an early age," he said after accepting the award. "With that comes a great platform to do stuff off the field."
Clayton and Ellen have learned much along the way. After discovering Lusaka's steep municipal water rates, they decided to build the orphanage its own well. "A year ago we sat on land and looked at blueprints," says Ellen. "This year there'll be kids calling this place their home. It's going to get us really excited to start our next project."
That might be in the Dominican Republic. "I have so many connections [there] with my teammates," Clayton says. "I want to see how we can help." And he and Ellen have already begun discussing ways to help their Zambian children once they're grown up and ready to leave the orphanage—to make sure there's a place for them to learn a trade or the basics of microfinance.
But Hope, now 12, will have Hope's Home for another half-dozen years. "She's doing great now," he says. "She's such a happy kid when she's healthy."
The Ravens' veteran linebacker is an avowedly straight father of two. Yet ever since Ayanbadejo wrote a column for The Huffington Post headlined SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? three years ago, he has been a happy warrior on the front lines of the latest civil rights struggle. For airing his opinion, he was targeted with gay slurs on message boards and crude comments in the locker room. And after he threw his support behind a 2012 ballot initiative to establish gay marriage in Maryland, for which he filmed a video and lobbied at the statehouse, a state legislator urged team owner Steve Bisciotti to shut his linebacker up.
But Ayanbadejo, 36, also heard from members of the gay community and other supporters in the incident's aftermath. One letter, from a Presbyterian minister, wished that more clergy shared Ayanbadejo's understanding of love. Another, from a local mom, recounted how having a Raven speak out in support of gay rights had eased her gay son's way at school. "Really, [the legislator's attack] made my voice a lot louder," Ayanbadejo says. "It made me want to work even harder and longer until this thing gets passed in every state."
The son of a Nigerian father and an Irish-American mother, Ayanbadejo spent several formative years as a biracial kid amid a tapestry of gays, lesbians and sympathizers after his stepfather took a job at UC Santa Cruz as resident director of an LGBT-supportive dorm. Thus he has a fairly high standard for brotherhood, and tolerance doesn't quite cut it: "You tolerate when somebody is smoking a cigarette around you. For me, acceptance is the big word. I preach acceptance."