A Giant on and off the Court


            Often the public is inundated with negative stories surrounding American athletes.  The brawl at the club many times overshadows the service to the community in many mainstream media stories of professional athletes.

            Nevertheless, many athletes such as the late Manute Bol used their fortune and fame to give back to causes bigger than themselves, usually to very little fanfare.  Bol died on June 19 at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. from severe kidney trouble and a painful skin ailment.

            When Manute Bol entered the NBA in 1985, he was seen simply as a 7-foot-7 shot-blocking machine from Bridgeport College via Sudan.  However, he left the league after 10 seasons, developing accurate three-point shooting range, a rarity for centers.  In addition, he developed into one of the most caring and giving humanitarians and activist to ever lace up a pair of sneakers in professional basketball.

            “Sudan and the world have lost a hero and example for all of us,” said Tom Prichard, executive director of the group Sudan Sunrise.  “Manute, we’ll miss you.  Our prayers and best wishes go out to all of his family, and all who mourn his loss.”

            Although he put up modest numbers (2.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game with four teams) and had a modest personality, what he accomplished off the court in Sudan and his adoptive American hometowns is anything but modest.

He was giving to the cities in which he played from 1985-1994, which included the teams Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat.

            “Despite his accomplishments on the court, his lasting legacy will be the tireless work and causes he promoted in his native Sudan and the cities in which he played,” said the Washington Wizards organization in a statement.

            Manute Bol worked tirelessly with Sudan Sunrise seeking reconciliation for his war-torn homeland.  He donated much of his NBA earnings to causes that helped Sudan, frequently visiting Sudanese refugee camps to lend his support to his countrymen suffering from ongoing conflict.

            He later established the Ring True Foundation as a fund-raising effort to help those refugees. 

            “Manute’s impact on this city, our franchise and the game of basketball cannot be put into words,” said Philadelphia 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski.  “He … was continually giving himself through his generosity and humanitarian efforts in order to make the world around him a much better place, for which he will always be remembered.”

            It has been said that a person’s worth is not measured by the fame or fortune he/she receives, but by what they do with that fame and fortune.  Manute Bol was a living example of the difference that one can make in this world when given a platform to be heard.

            Too often, society highlights the negatives things that celebrities do, never giving enough of a platform to the positive. 

            So whether it is Manute Bol and his fundraising efforts in Sudan or the Shawn Marion Foundation providing assistance to single mothers, it is time that many critics and members of the media give just as much air-time to the community service American athletes perform and less time to the criminal background of the minority.

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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