When it comes to supporting inner-city youth programs, the Miami Heat is nowhere to be found. Team owner Mickey Arison and president Pat Riley should be ashamed. The organization has won three world championships with some of the greatest African-American players in the history of hoops.
Right now, the next LeBron James or Dwyane Wade could be a kid hitting three-pointers inside one of the new gyms at Overtown’s Gibson Park or Liberty City’s Charles Hadley Park. Arison and Riley wouldn’t know because Heat officials do not engage Miami’s black community. Sure, the team holds fundraisers, hosts a family festival, and donates tickets to youth programs, but that's not enough.
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Arison and Riley could learn from the Miami Dolphins. The city’s NFL franchise donates the proceeds from its specialty license plate — roughly $250,000 per year — to local youth charities and regional sporting events. That’s not all. In June, head coach Adam Gase invited the Miami Norland Senior High School football team and Liberty City Optimist Club kids to watch the Dolphins’ summer practice sessions at the Nova Southeastern University training facility. In fact, the Dolphins have brought out more than 30 youth organizations and high school football teams to Nova.
Gase told me he was inspired to engage Miami’s inner-city football community after watching a Vice documentary about the intense rivalry between the Liberty City and Gwen Cherry Optimist Clubs. That’s how it should be done.
Even the Miami Marlins, the city’s most hated sports franchise, does more than the Heat. The Marlins have a tremendous community outreach program that encourages black kids to pick up baseball as a sport. The team pays for uniforms and equipment for more than 500 children who participate in a summer league and clinics hosted by current and former players and coaches. The program is free to all children. Marlins players and coaches also go to schools to read to kids.
Just last week, the City of Miami cut the ribbon on a renovated baseball field at Charles Hadley Park. The upgrades included replacing all fencing and the backstop with new vinyl-coated fencing, drainage improvements, installing new dugouts and regrading the outfield turf. Additional improvements included reconditioning the infield clay, laying new concrete sidewalks, and providing concrete slabs under the dugouts and bleachers. It was all paid for by the Marlins and Major League Baseball.
The Heat doesn’t come close, even though Miami-Dade County pays the team $6.4 million each year as an operating subsidy until 2030. In exchange, Arison donates a measly $1 million a year to the county parks department. It’s time for the Heat to invest in Overtown, Liberty City, Goulds, and every other inner-city neighborhood.