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Florida’s professional sports teams meet, supporting athletes with intellectual disabilities

Leaders of Florida’s professional sports teams recently gathered in Miami to create a game plan to change perceptions about people with intellectual disabilities. Hosted by Special Olympics Florida, leadership from the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Orlando Magic, Orlando City Soccer Club, Miami Marlins, and Miami Heat all took part in shaping the direction of the newly created Sports Advisory Council for Special Olympics Florida.

The Sports Advisory Council for Special Olympics Florida is comprised of leaders from the state’s professional sports organizations who provide guidance on elevating the role of sports in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in Florida.

Founded in 1972, Special Olympics Florida provides year-round sports training, competition, leadership, and health programs to children and adults with intellectual disabilities at no cost.

Members of the Sports Advisory Council for Special Olympics Florida include:

  • Brian Auld – President, Tampa Bay Rays
  • Brian Ford – Chief Operating Officer, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Tom Garfinkel – President and CEO, Miami Dolphins
  • Steve Griggs – Chief Executive Officer, Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Peter Luukko – Executive Chairman, Florida Panthers
  • Mark Lamping – President, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Alex Martins – Chief Executive Officer, Orlando Magic
  • Phil Rawlins – Founder and President, Orlando City Soccer
  • David Samson – President, Miami Marlins
  • Eric Woolworth – President, Miami Heat

“This is a monumental accomplishment for our athletes,” said Sherry Wheelock, President and CEO of Special Olympics Florida. “By coming together, we gain exposure to the business of sports that will help shape Special Olympics Florida so that we can serve even more athletes who have an intellectual disability.”

“The Tampa Bay Rays are proud to be members of the Sports Advisory Council for Special Olympics Florida,” said Rays President Brian Auld. “It’s our honor to help raise awareness of the tremendous work Special Olympics Florida does to help people with intellectual disabilities demonstrate their skills and talents through sports.”

“Participation in sports plays a vital role in the physical and social development of all athletes,” said Brian Ford, Chief Operating Officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I am proud to support and serve on the Sports Advisory Council for Special Olympics Florida as it continues its mission to create awareness and provide the needed resources which are so critical to the success of these gifted athletes.”

“The Miami Dolphins have a history of involvement, support, and inclusion with Special Olympics chapters in Dade and Broward, and we are excited about providing a platform for the great work they have done in empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said Dolphins President and CEO Tom Garfinkel. “Our mission of being community stewards and building character through sports are aligned, and we look forward to expanding our relationship with Special Olympics Florida.”

“The Tampa Bay Lightning and Special Olympics Florida share a common commitment to building strong communities of inclusion and respect for all individuals through sports,” said Lightning CEO Steve Griggs. “This partnership will help make a positive impact on athletes with and without intellectual disabilities in Tampa and across the state.”

“The Panthers are committed to supporting athletics in the community, and Special Olympics Florida provides a year-round training ground for competition,” Florida Panthers Executive Chairman Peter Luukko said. “I’m proud to support athletes with intellectual disabilities in a setting where they can enjoy a variety of team and individual sports.”

“On behalf of the Jacksonville Jaguars, I’m excited to contribute to the growth of Special Olympics Florida,” said Jaguars President Mark Lamping. “The Special Olympics mission of inclusion and empowerment for individuals with intellectual disabilities is one we should all support, and sports is the perfect platform for teaching important life lessons like determination, goal setting, and team work.”

“Sports transcend all barriers, cultures, ethnicities, and languages, and the Special Olympics truly are the embodiment of what can be accomplished through sport,” said Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins. “The Orlando Magic are proud supporters of the Special Olympics and believe in what the athletes and organization represent – diversity, inclusion, and empowerment.”

“We have always been an organization that embraced and encouraged diversity, and the Special Olympics organization is exemplary of these values,” said Orlando City Soccer Club President Phil Rawlins. “Orlando City is therefore honored and delighted to partner with and support Special Olympics Florida.”

“As leaders in sports, we are driven by the opportunity to give back to our hometowns and work alongside values-driven organizations that improve people’s lives,” said Marlins President David Samson. “Special Olympics Florida is a treasured partner that serves people with intellectual disabilities, and we are all committed to the role sports can play to empower all athletes.”

“Whether playing professionally or first learning to dribble a ball, sports can bring together individuals of all abilities and show how we can achieve our own personal best,” said Heat President Eric Woolworth. “The Heat look forward to collaborating with Special Olympics Florida in this endeavor and demonstrating the power of sports to build communities of respect and inclusion.”

Members of the Sports Advisory Council for Special Olympics Florida provide counsel in two areas. First, members share insights into the business of sports so that Special Olympics can become an even more business-oriented nonprofit, ensuring that people with intellectual disabilities who compete in sports receive quality training and competitive opportunities. Additionally, because Special Olympics Florida does not charge a fee to participate, members provide guidance on growing Special Olympics Florida’s foundation so revenue becomes more diverse and sustainable. Expanding the nonprofit would allow more athletes to experience the friendship, confidence, and unity facilitated by sports.

The newly formed Sports Advisory Council met for the first time in Miami in February, representing the first time in nearly 17 years that leaders from Florida’s professional sports teams assembled in the same room. The next meeting is scheduled for May 26, 2016.

Learn more about the Sports Advisory Council for Special Olympics Florida.