Friday, January 6, 2012

Gridiron Giving: The Braylon Edwards Foundation

Today, we wrap up our “Gridiron Giving” series with a foundation that rewards hard work, perseverance and a desire to better one’s condition.

The Braylon Edwards Foundation was started by Braylon Edwards, a wide receiver from the University of Michigan who was drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft (third overall) by the Cleveland Browns.  Inspired by his father, a Detroit teacher, Braylon chose education as the focus of his charitable activities. 

The Foundation conducts several programs designed to promote education and recognize achievements of students and educators.  In 2005 Edwards and his mother, who serves as president of the Foundation, announced his “Advance 100” program and pledged to give $10,000 in scholarships to 100 eighth-graders from the Cleveland Municipal School District, provided they fulfill certain requirements through high school:  a 2.5 or better; participate in a minimum of fifteen hours of community service a year; and display exemplary citizenship and conduct.  This wasn’t just an empty promise, either.  The Foundation also provided tutoring and mentoring to give participants an improved chance to succeed.  In December, it was announced that 79 of those students had met the program’s requirements and have begun their first year of college.  Since only 50% of children in that same district graduate high school, it is a testament to the success of the program that so many students rose to and met Edwards’ challenge.

Although Edwards inspired drive and ambition in these young lives, his own professional career has experienced both peaks and valleys.  His first season with the Browns was marred by illness and injury and it wasn’t until 2007 that he really caught his stride, breaking team records for receiving yards and touchdowns in a season and becoming the first Browns wide receiver selected to the Pro Bowl in eighteen years.  Unfortunately, he and the Browns struggled in 2008 and he was traded to the New York Jets.  He made the postseason for the first time with the Jets, in 2009, but was released and signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers following the 2010 season.  He has been released from the Niners and is now a free agent.  Overall, it would be reasonable to say that, to this point, his career has not lived up to the expectations of a Number 3 overall draft pick.

In addition to his professional struggles, Braylon Edwards has had some legal troubles.  In addition to numerous citations for excessive speeding and DWI, Edwards is still on probation for a misdemeanor assault when he punched a party promoter in Cleveland.  Needless to say, he didn’t leave Cleveland under the best of terms; you could probably only point to LeBron James for an example of a less graceful exit from a city.  However, Edwards didn’t waiver from fulfilling his commitment to those 100 eighth-graders.  In fact, his Foundation has also supplied them with laptops and other goods so they will be even more prepared for college.  Although many of the students will be attending Ohio schools, many are on campuses outside the state, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Cornell.  Not stopping there, Edwards has also created a $500,000 endowment for Michigan football players who wear the #1 jersey, in honor of Anthony Carter, who was a three-time All-American while at Michigan.

Even though we can't predict how the rest of his career will transpire, everyone can agree that he has already left an enduring legacy.  Furthermore, that legacy has the potential to impact more than just these 79 college students.  When those students graduate, they will embark on their own careers, and there is no telling how much they will contribute to society.  And you can bet that none of them will forget the chance they were given by Braylon Edwards; hopefully it will inspire in them a lifetime of paying it forward. 

I hope you've enjoyed our look at the charitable endeavors of some of the NFL's stars as much as I have enjoyed writing about them.  In cased you missed them, here are links to the other posts in the "Gridiron Giving" series:

The Heath Evans Foundation:

Warrick Dunn Family Foundation:

Rivers of Hope Foundation:

Jason Witten's SCORE Foundation:

Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation: 

Brian Westbrook's Brian's Blessings:

Jared Allen's Homes for Wounded Warriors:

To see all of the Gridiron Giving posts, you can also click on the "charity" label in the left sidebar.

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