COMMENTARY | By now, everyone is well aware of New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich's valiant fight and triumphant victory over Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that forced him to miss the entire 2009 season at Boston College.
However, what everyone might not know about Herzlich, who is currently looking to graduate from backup status to the Giants' starting middle linebacker this summer, is that off the field, the calling of numerous social ills and diseases have inspired this gridiron warrior to try to make a difference in the lives of others.
"I felt other people giving their time and support to help me get to where I am made a difference," Herzlich said, recalling how when he fought his battle against cancer, he had a large support network of family and friends in his corner. "I think that reciprocating that, even if it's indirectly, is not only necessary, but it's something that I like to do."
The list of causes that Herzlich supports are numerous and seem to grow every year. He's currently involved with "Uplifting Athletes," which raises money to fund research, outreach, and educational efforts for those stricken by rare diseases.
He's on the advisory board of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, named in honor of former Boston College football player Jay McGillis, who lost his battle with leukemia while a member of current Giants head coach Coughlin's team when Coughlin was at Boston College.
Herzlich also is a proud member of The V Foundation, named in honor of late North Carolina State University basketball head coach Jim Valvano, whose stirring "Don't Give Up … Don't Ever Give Up!" speech, which was delivered at the 1993 ESPY Awards two months before he lost his battle with cancer in 1993, still motivates thousands of people to day in their quest to eradicate cancer.
In addition to also helping friends and participating in NFL-sponsored causes, such as the league's Play 60 initiative that encourages kids to get 60 minutes of activity per day and, most recently, the New York Giants and NBC 4 Health Expo that debuted this past June, Herzlich has expanded his philanthropic efforts to causes outside of cancer, such as My Sister's Place, a nonprofit organization that provides domestic abuse victims with shelter and educational resources to help empower them again.
"My girlfriend, Danielle, became very interested in My Sister's Place, so we started doing some events together," Herzlich said. "Domestic abuse is something that happened to people I love, and it's something that's super important to me.
"I believe everyone deserves to have equal respect, so we have been trying to raise the idea that being a man isn't about dominating women; it's about empowering them."
He also has taken a passion in supporting animal shelters; in fact, he's adopted several pets, including a pair of English bulldogs named Champ and Scout.
Although Herzlich remains open to giving as much of his time as possible to as many organizations, it is those that deal with pediatric cancer that especially have a strong hold of his heart.
"To see kids smile and have that second chance is incredible," Herzlich said of his work with young cancer patients. "If I was ever to create a foundation, I would call it the 'Create a Star Foundation,' because each kid who is diagnosed with pediatric cancer is a star in the making, and some of them don't get chances.
"If you give that kid a chance, they could be something really special," he added. "I was lucky that I got a chance to do something I always wanted to do, so I think giving back and helping kids to something they always wanted to do is a big goal of mine.
Herzlich, who recently bought a home in northern New Jersey, is hoping that as his football roots grow so too will his philanthropic opportunities.
Although his time has been sharply reduced due to the start of football, his philanthropic spirit is just as strong as ever before, with dreams of one day starting a foundation.
"Right now, yeah, it's in the future," he said of his desire to eventually start his own foundation. "My main focus now is obviously football and playing for the Giants.
"I think in the offseason, I spend a lot of time helping a lot of organizations because for me, that's perfect. I think more of my time would go into starting a foundation and managing it rather than actually helping others, so I think the best use of my time right now is to help others."
For that, he's thankful that the Giants organization has put him in a position to deliver messages of hope, strength, respect, and compassion to others.
"I think that the Giants give us a great platform," Herzlich said. "Every time you're more recognizable and you get more chances to speak out publicly, then it gives you more chances to do well.
"I think if things go the way I'd like them to go, if we have a great season, then I can do even more after it."
Patricia Traina is a New Jersey-based, accredited sportswriter who covers the New York Giants for Inside Football. She is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow her on Twitter @Patricia_Traina for all the latest Giants news and notes, including daily updates from training camp.
- Sports & Recreation
- Volunteering & Philanthropy
- New York Giants
- Mark Herzlich