Sunday, April 17, 2011

MLB Players Fight Child Slavery so Kids are Free to Play

April marks the return of Major League Baseball (MLB), and this year there’s an additional cause for excitement. Some MLB athletes are taking action to associate America’s favorite pastime with more than just sunflower seeds and hot dogs. San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt and other major league players are joining with Not For Sale (NFS) to use baseball in the fight against child slavery. Last year, Affeldt donated a total of $20,000 to support sports programs for kids that have been freed from slavery and now offered sanctuary in NFS programs around the world.

Affeldt began his involvement with NFS, a San Francisco – based non-profit committed to combating human trafficking, after he was traded to the Giants in 2009. Connecting with NFS co-founder David Batstone, Affeldt was inspired to use his platform as a professional athlete to bring awareness to a largely invisible global problem.

“Our Free2Play initiative, in partnership with athletes like Jeremy Affeldt, is a perfect example of how we approach our fight against modern slavery,” Batstone says. “We call it ‘open source activism’ – we do not try to make an individual into a certain kind of social justice activist, but provide a platform where they can contribute out of their passion and talent,” he explains.

While Affeldt’s outstanding first Giants season earned him the reputation of being one of the most effective left-handed setup men in baseball, his philanthropic actions made him a champion for the freedom of others. Baseball fans and human rights activists alike cheered-on Affeldt as he pledged to donate $100 for every strike out of the 2009 season to NFS’s Free2Play platform – a program that enables athletes to use their talents to help victims of human trafficking at the organization’s international projects.

Jeremy’s efforts earned him a 2010 nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award – a national award, which is given annually to the Major League Baseball player who combines a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the field.

Now, with a World Series Title under his belt, Affeldt is upping his commitment to $250 per strike out. Batstone joined the pitcher at Spring Training last week in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the pitcher announced his increased commitment. CNN covered the efforts of the two freedom fighters, as they attempted to recruit more ballplayers to the cause. Among the new recruits is Saint Louis Cardinal’s outfielder Matt Holiday, who pledged $500 for every homerun he hits this season.

Everyone wants to emulate the moves of their favorite athletes – when sports stars stand up to modern-day slavery, fans are quick to follow suit. Catholic Healthcare West just announced its pledge to match the first $20,000 that Affeldt raises for NFS during the 2011 season. Also, The San Francisco Giants organization will sponsor a Free2Play game, to be held at AT&T Park during the June 21st match-up between the SF Giants and the Minnesota Twins, in order to bring attention to the movement.

For those of us taking in the action from the stands, we can now do more than victory dance when Holiday knocks one out of the park. Free2Play encourages sports fans to make pledges contingent on the successes of the team they follow.

You don’t have to have a Jeremy Affeldt-like ERA in order to ensure all kids have the opportunity to enjoy physical activity free from slavery, for “anyone can be part of the Free2Play movement,” according to Batstone,

Athletes can make commitments on their own skills, as NFS seeks to mobilize activists to use their passions (whether they lie with sports, music, art or elsewhere) as a means to provide victims of trafficking with resources to pursue their dreams. The University of San Francisco’s women’s soccer team fielded its own challenge, pledging $15 to Free2Play for every goal they score a season.

Their contributions, combined with generous donations from Affeldt and others, allowed NFS to build a full-sized basketball court at their project in Thailand last year. Not For Sale Thailand, which supports over 100 children who would otherwise be vulnerable to enslavement in the region’s sex industry, can now provide kids with a sports therapy program that offers rehabilitation through play. Meanwhile in Peru, NFS sponsors a surf tribe that provides former street children with equipment and resources to pursue their love of surfing.

Through Free2Play, Not For Sale has enabled athletes and fans to partner in the fight against human trafficking. Though adversaries on the field, Jeremy Affeldt and Matt Holiday are among those teaming up to fight the greater opponent of child slavery. Whether you support the Giants or Cardinals, play in the Major Leagues or the local Little League, live in San Francisco or the streets of Peru – all kids should be free to play.

Watch the CNN Feature on Jeremy Affeldt on The CNN Freedom Project:

SOURCE: Not For Sale

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