During his 17-year career, Kenny Lofton made sure he was always giving back. Now he’s hoping to extend his philanthropic efforts, as well as other former pros.
The six-time Major League Baseball All-Star said between having large hearts and a privilege to earn money playing a game helps position many professional athletes to serve communities during their playing careers. However, when they’re done playing, that platform can disappear. To help solve that problem, Lofton has co-founded the Still Got Game Foundation, along with fellow former MLB All-Star Torii Hunter and other financial professionals.
“The name speaks for itself; we’re done playing, but we still have game off the field,” Lofton said. “Celebrities and athletes have a platform to help others in a positive way and change people’s lives, and we want to make sure that platform is still there for when we’re off the field.”
The executive board includes Lofton, Hunter, former big leaguers Ken Griffey Jr. and LaTroy Hawkins, as well as Ben Posen, Mike Buckius and Stephen Solaka from the financial industry. An advisory board to help include more players will likely be formed in the near future.
The organization is still in its infancy, embarking on early fundraising and goal-setting. Its executive board recently named co-creator Melissa Persaud as executive director. Persaud had previously spent more than 17 years as director of the Major League Baseball Players Trust, a foundation for active players.
Persaud saw a steady increase of active player involvement while at the Players Trust, and as she pondered her next step a few years ago, saw an opportunity to create an organization to leverage former players’ time and passion.
“A lot of these players were doing things on their own, but they’re used to being part of a team,” Persaud said. “And it’s great because they all want to support each other and want direction. Together, we can have a much greater impact.”
As Persaud explained, there are plenty of athlete foundations, including those started by mega-stars like the Lebron James Family Foundation and Michael Phelps Foundation. There are also other athlete-focused organizations such as Athletes for Hope and Athletes for Charity.
Persaud imagines the foundation open to all athletes, but with baseball acting as the cornerstone because of Lofton and Hunter and their relationship with so many former teammates.
Lofton’s hope is to bring enough former professional athletes, and others, together to help identify places of need that are often overlooked. His prime example is the East Cleveland neighborhood he once lived in. The city will serve as site of the organization’s first event, a charity poker tournament that will feature the likes of Bobby Bonilla, Ellis Burks and Charlie Sheen.
“We only can see so much in front of us and other guys will see what they see and that’s how we can identify where we can help,” Lofton said. “If certain guys have something they feel strongly about, we’ll go in that direction. We’re trying to provide a place for guys to give what they have to give.”
Early indications point toward definite involvement in financial and environmental literacy, Persaud said. There’s also a current focus on baseball clinics, as well.
“It’s a very general and broad mission, but for us it works,” she said. “It’s not to say we won’t drill it down a little but, but they’re all united in their desire to give back and make a difference through social change.”
Along with the planned July event in Cleveland, the Still Got Game Foundation will host an event in Napa, California, with former Major League player and manager Dusty Baker. Persaud said Baker was a natural fit to help host an event because he’s done a lot on his own around scholarships and environmental work.
Beyond player visions, Persaud said the foundation is open to working with other organizations and business partners to collaborate on issues. Whether it’s “lending celebrity” to help draw attention or giving grants, Persaud believes there will be plenty of options to help.
As Still Got Game Foundation matures and finds its place in the nonprofit world, Persaud says there’s no saying the potential former athletes can have in the realm.
“They’re the most charitable people I’ve ever met,” she said of her partners in the organization. “They don’t do things for recognition. We just want to be sustainable and continue to make an impact and truly make a difference in the lives of others.”