Posts Tagged ‘Kenny Stills’

Dolphins Promote Harmony, Inclusion Though Football Unites Program

Monday, September 9th, 2019

It’s just past 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, three hours before the Dolphins will kick off the 2019 season against the Ravens, and the North East plaza at Hard Rock Stadium is bustling with activity.

At the team’s fourth-annual Football Unites CommUNITY Tailgate, large overhead fans are whirling at full capacity, while a DJ shuffles between mid-1990s and early 2000s hip-hop classics – 2Pac and Ja Rule are the biggest crowd-pleasers – and radio-friendly Drake hits.

A behemoth foosball table in the right corner clicks and clacks, and to the left, an assembly line of young members from Davie Police Athletic League (PAL) and 5000 Role Models packs kits with hygiene supplies to distribute to those affected by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

Hot and cold food stations on the opposite end of the plaza are stocked with hamburgers, salads, chips and an assortment of sugary treats, and adjacent refrigerators are crammed with water bottles and soda cans.

“Our owner, Stephen Ross, our players and coaches paid for this tailgate with the idea of bringing four to five groups that would’ve never thought of connecting in their regular walks of life,” said Jason Jenkins, Dolphins Senior Vice President of Communications and Community Affairs. “South Florida is a melting pot of a lot of intersections, and we want to make sure that we’re reflective of all the groups that are coming here.”

The initiative is part of a series of community service projects planned for the 2019 season, which also include ride-along programs designed to foster positive communication between police and youth, as well as cultural tours through a partnership with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

While some of the Dolphins’ previous social-progress leaders, including Kenny Stills, a three-time Nat Moore Community Service Award winner, are no longer on the team, Raekwon McMillan, Bobby McCain, Jerome Baker, Albert Wilson and Xavien Howard are among the players who’ve carried on the legacy of their predecessors.

Dolphins alumni, including tailgate attendees Nate Garner, an offensive tackle from 2008 to 2014, and Ed Perry, a tight end and long snapper from 1997 to 2004, have also continued to be prominently involved in efforts to unite people of different races, genders, sexual orientations and identities through sports.

“Our players have been extremely supportive and active, not only financially, but with their time to the program,” Jenkins said. “We’re stewards in this community and this brand. We have this commitment and responsibility to make sure we can make South Florida united, make South Florida healthy and make South Florida more educated, as well.

“Our owner has been there every step of the way. (Vice Chairman, President and CEO) Tom Garfinkel really gave us the opportunity to lay out this vision, and it’s great that (we’re) seeing it come to fruition each and every day.”

Since its inception in 2015, the tailgate has grown organically, primarily through word of mouth, from 10 participating organizations to over 60.

Jenkins believes that’s only the beginning.

“Our capacity is limitless in what we want to do,” he said. “We believe in humanity, we believe in football having the ability to bring people together and we’re very fortunate to be able to provide these platforms to bring our youth together.”

Away from Cameras, Dolphins Give Back to Communities

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018
Kenny Stills signs autographs for young fans. (The Palm Beach Post)

For Dolphins players, the job of a professional athlete doesn’t end when the gameday cameras stop rolling and the pads are hung up in the lockers.

During their free time, many give back to the communities that raised them, using their platforms and voices to make a difference in the lives of less-privileged families.

In addition to participating in nearly every philanthropic event the team has hosted since he arrived in South Florida four years ago, wide receiver Kenny Stills – a nominee for the 2017 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award – has spent each off day during the season working on innumerable charitable efforts.

“On any Tuesday, if you try to get a hold of him, you’re going to have to wait until five or six o’clock because he’s doing community stuff all day,” said Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase. “I’ve been impressed with how he’s made himself available, how much he tries to do.”

In the coming weeks, Stills plans to give away presents on “10 Days of Stillsmas,” an initiative he personally launched last season to spread more joy to his fans.

“This will be the second year we try and sponsor families that need help,” said Stills, who personally selects and pays for the presents. “We usually do a meal and then give gifts for 10 kids. We’re in the process of finding and selecting the families. I’m sure there are other things that will come up for Thanksgiving, too. I’ll be sure to share those things on my social media.”

Nearly a year ago, linebacker Kiko Alonso watched helplessly as Puerto Rico, his father’s birthplace, was devastated by Hurricane Maria. No. 47 immediately started a fundraising campaign to help victims in both Puerto Rico and Miami, with a goal of $150,000. Alonso pledged the first $25,000, which was subsequently matched by the Miami Dolphins Foundation; in all, the relief fund generated over $165,000.

The recovery efforts are still ongoing, and Alonso stresses the importance of lending a helping hand, whether it’s for those impacted by natural disasters or unable to find food and shelter in local townships.

“There’s just people out there who need help everywhere, and there are a lot of people out there who aren’t as fortunate as some of us,” he said. “Everybody in the NFL is very blessed, so I think it’s important for anybody in our shoes to give back. I think it’s just the least we can do.”

Hosting food drives, supporting Boys and Girls Clubs or working with police departments may not generate as many headlines as game-winning touchdowns, but players recognize that even a gesture as small as tossing a football with a group of kids can leave a lasting impression.

“You always want to pay it forward,” said safety T.J. McDonald, who has regularly partaken in team community efforts, including the Dade vs. Broward All-Star Game and the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, as well as numerous other events during his time with the Rams.

“We get a lot of fame … (for) what we do and who we are, (but) we wouldn’t be who we are without other people. So, it’s very important to be that positive influence that some of us had when we were young. Just being that face there, it lets them know that it’s possible. That was big for guys like me growing up.”

Cornerback Walt Aikens understands the importance of having that kind of support and guidance first-hand.

Beginning at age six, the Charlotte, N.C. native played youth football for the Police Athletic/Activities League, which aims to strengthen character, build bridges between police and communities, and prevent juvenile crime through recreational, mentoring and educational opportunities.

Aikens credits the organization for playing a critical role in his on- and off-field development, and for keeping him on the straight and narrow path as an adolescent.

“It helped me in so many ways,” he said. “What PAL does is help kids like me stay out of trouble.”

In May, the 27-year-old was named an official spokesperson for National PAL, and proudly serves as an inspiration for impressionable children – including his younger cousin – who faces similar kinds of hardships or roadblocks.

“I can now go and talk to kids all over the place and just share my testimony with them, because it wasn’t always easy,” he said. “I persevered and made it to where I am today, and I just want to give back to them and let them know they can do whatever they want to do. It doesn’t even have to be sports, it can be anything.”

As Stills explains, the opportunity to impact the lives of others isn’t just something that comes with the territory of being an NFL star.

Said No. 10: “It’s everything.”

Dolfans NYC Support is ‘Big-Time’ for Dolphins

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

When the Dolphins take the field in East Rutherford, N.J. on Sunday, players know the inter-division tilt won’t feel like a typical road game.

Not with over 1,000 aqua-and-orange-clad fans spread across four sections at MetLife Stadium, whose boisterous chanting and unwavering celebrations have left a lasting impression.

“It’s big-time,” said Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills. “It’s not too often that you go on the road and you have such a heavy presence in another stadium, so we always appreciate them.’”

For wide receiver and kick returner Jakeem Grant, the warm reception from one of the most significant contingents of Miami fans he’s witnessed at an away game has inspired him and his teammates.

“We feed off them,” Grant said. “They basically give us that momentum, with them cheering if we make a big play. We’re like, ‘Man, we can continue to do this!’ With the fans traveling with us and doing all those things, we greatly appreciate that.”

Throughout the eight previous #MetLifeTakeover games – especially the six triumphs – the loudest cheers have come from Dolphins faithful in attendance, who’ve shouted after every first down and belted out the team fight song following each touchdown.

 

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“I remember in the past, we’ve seen some good support there,” said linebacker Kiko Alonso. “It’s definitely critical to have our fans come to those games.”

Alonso won’t be disappointed on Sunday afternoon, as Dolphins supporters’ voices will echo through the stadium, rooting for him to come up with a game-changing interception and Stills to beat his defender for a crucial score.

The applause emanating from Sections 344 to 347 is not only audible on telecasts, but travels all the way down to the Dolphins sideline.

“We definitely hear it,” Stills said. “It’s nice to have our fans with us on the road … I always make sure to go over there and dap everybody up and tell them face to face, ‘Thank you for being here.’”

Dolphins Aim to Unite Community Through Football

Monday, September 10th, 2018
Dolphins executive Jason Jenkins (center) greets members of NOBLE at Sunday’s Football Unites Tailgate.

Two hours before the Miami Dolphins kicked off the 2018 season on the field, the organization proudly launched the third year of its Football Unites Tailgate – a Stephen Ross-led initiative aimed to fortify relationships between local community leaders, youth and law enforcement – outside the Hard Rock Stadium gates.

Hip-hop music blared through the speakers as a throng of young fans skipped their way past the Joe Robbie Statue, around a decorative white picket fence and inside a reserved section at the North East Plaza. With a backdrop of colorful murals overlooking the festivities, early attendees lined up for lunch at the hot meal stations before spinning the knobs at an oversized Dolphins-themed foosball table.

Each year, the camaraderie, food and entertainment have brought together diverse groups to the pre-game celebrations, which also provide educational components intended to spark conversation and build positive relationships between fans of different races, genders, sexual orientation and identities.

“Our owner, Stephen Ross, created RISE – Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality – and with that, his goal is to use sports to drive social progress and make meaningful change,” said Jason Jenkins, Dolphins Senior V.P. of Communications and Community Affairs. “So, there’s going to be a lot of fun, but there are also educational opportunities designed to bring people together and learn about each other. They’re going to do a scavenger hunt, they’re going to have discussions and they’re going to talk about themselves. We want to bring all these diverse groups together that make up the culture of South Florida, with sports as that backdrop.”

Over a dozen organizations have partnered with the Dolphins, including 5,000 Role Models, North Miami Beach Police Athletic League, Urban League of Broward and NOBLE, whose leaders have recognized the program’s immense impact on their community.

“This initiative is great because it gives the kids an opportunity to come out and mingle with each other, and also meet with officers,” said Timothy Belcher, who serves as President of NOBLE, P.A.L. Coordinator and a mentor with 5,000 Role Models. “We’re trying to bridge the gap between the officers and the youth, to make this a better [community] for everybody. We want to teach our kids responsibility and direction as far as being successful in life.”

The tailgate is one of a handful of initiatives that culminated from a 2016 town hall co-hosted by the Dolphins and R.I.S.E., during which players – lead by Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas, Arian Foster and Jelani Jenkins – and local leaders addressed ways to combat issues of racial inequality and community discord.

“We brought in community members, law enforcement, our players and our executive staff,” Jenkins said. “It was really about, what can we do to bring about positive change and maybe serve as an example for others throughout the country? Everyone came in with a positive vibe and an open mind. They listened to each other’s points of view, and asked, ‘What are some actual things that we can do?’”

At the suggestion of law enforcement officials, Dolphins players – most recently, Davon Godchaux and Kenyan Drake – have participated in ride-alongs throughout the community with local officers as a sign of unity.

In addition, the Dolphins have arranged cultural tours and created scholarship programs, while continuing to welcome organizations championing human rights and community justice each gameday.

“It’s really about this theme that football can unite people,” Jenkins said. “We all want the same thing. The police officers, all they want to do is come home to their families. All the community wants is to live in a society where they’re not judged by their race, sex, gender orientation or identity … We want to make South Florida healthier, educated and more united. We feel events like these can help us with that goal.”

Son’s Time to Shine at Dolphins Practice

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

It took me 26 years to earn my first press credential. It took my son less than five.

Charlie – a laminated media pass dangling from a lanyard around his neck down to his knees – joined a group of Dolphins fan website moderators for a team-organized Web Weekend Training Camp event last Sunday.

At the conclusion of a closed practice, each attendee was granted field access to interview a select group of players, wandering down a short flight of stairs from our covered riser to a walkway through the bleachers seats to a designated area behind the left goal post.

While I’d normally join the scrum during media availability sessions to ask right tackle Ja’Wuan James and center Daniel Kilgore about preseason takeaways and the offense’s progression, I took in the moment from the back of the assembled group. Standing under the Florida summer sun and scant, grey-white cloud bubbles hovering above Nova Southeastern University, I soaked in a rare opportunity to cover a sporting event with my son.

Besides, when I tried to explain the significance of the special occasion to Charlie, he asked if we’d be talking to “the dolphins that swim in the water.”

But what he lacked in football experience and knowhow, he made up for in enthusiasm and encouragement. He giddily high-fived James and Kilgore, who bent down to their knees to greet the youngest media member in attendance. As the players walked off the field, he raised his arms in the air and chanted, “Go, Dolphins!” and innocently broke a media rule by snagging autographs for his personal collection.

Before departing, we stopped to greet Kenny Stills, who’s renowned for staying long after every practice to sign and take pictures with fans, just as he did for us last season. True to form, the Dolphins wide receiver smiled and chatted with an animated Charlie, who collected his second lifetime autograph from No. 10 – except this time, on a miniature toy ukulele that rarely leaves his side.

Just then, we recognized another Dolphins player who exited the locker room – the star quarterback whose left knee brace fascinated Charlie throughout practice (“How did he get that boo-boo?” he’d asked me repeatedly).

Although Charlie doesn’t know it, he’d stockpiled his first Ryan Tannehill autograph before he was even born. Back in October 2013, during Web Weekend X, each invitee was handed a single raffle ticket, and Michelle – then five months pregnant – received a second one for the baby. The last drawing of the evening was for a mini-Fathead set signed by the Dolphins quarterback, and of course, Charlie’s number proved to be the winner.

Charlie’s first jersey was, naturally, an aqua No. 17, and we took a photo of him as a baby in his Miami gear next to the now-framed sticker collection. Thanks to a senior member of the Dolphins Digital Media Team whom we’ve come to know closely over the years, Tannehill caught wind of the adorable snapshot and inscribed it, “To Charlie, Future Dolphins QB!”

Fast forward to Sunday – nearly four years later – and Charlie finally had a chance to meet his favorite player in person. While he was too shy to ask the quarterback about his “boo-boo” – he’ll get his media chops soon enough – he did hand him that trusted ukulele. A surprised Tannehill laughed before graciously signing the slightly-peeling body of the musical instrument, and gave Charlie a resounding high five after learning the full backstory of his connection to the young fan.

Although Charlie may not have jotted down notes or gathered enough quotes to submit a full practice report, he interacted with four key offensive starters, and even walked away with a bagful of keepsakes. Not bad for a rookie journalist covering his first of what will surely be many Dolphins events.

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