By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, has studied and funded autism research and clinical programs for years. The family’s foundation – The Lurie Family Foundation – has contributed more than $75 million to various institutions. And a year ago Lurie wrote a story on autism awareness for Time Magazine.
Now Lurie, and his Super Bowl Champion Eagles are taking autism awareness to another level.
The Eagles Autism Challenge, to be held May 19 at the team’s Lincoln Financial Field, is a landmark cycling and 5K run/walk fundraising event dedicated to raising funds for innovative research and programs to help unlock the mystery of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Co-sponsored by the Philadelphia-based Wawa convenience store chain, the event features the Junior Hoagie 15-mile, Shorti Hoagie 30-mile and Classic Hoagie 50-mile cycling routes, along with a family-friendly 5K run/walk. All routes begin and end at the stadium, with the finish line located at the 50-yard line. One hundred percent of participant-raised funds will be directed to autism research and programs at three nationally recognized research institutions – Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University, and Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.
Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the country with one in 68 children affected and one in 42 boys, yet it has been historically underfunded, misunderstood and under-researched. The Eagles Autism Challenge is working to bring thought leaders in the field of autism together to collaborate on groundbreaking research that will have a transformational impact around the world.
Lurie’s younger brother is on the spectrum, which is what has made it personal for the Eagles owner.
“We started focusing in on autism, because it’s so personal to our owner,’’ Ryan Hammond, the Eagles director of the Autism Challenge, said. “He’s spoken about his brother being on the spectrum; he’s written about it. For him as an owner, when he looked at using this platform, bringing people together and looking at the NFL and approaching this national health crisis we are facing in terms of how the numbers continue to grow each year, the timing was right for us as an organization to focus on autism.
According to Hammond, the Eagles want to make Philadelphia a national hub for autism awareness. And for Lurie, who grew up as a sports fan in Boston, “The Challenge’’ could rival what the Red Sox “Jimmy Fund’’ has done for cancer awareness.
“The word challenge is important to us,’’ Hammond said. “Not only is autism a challenge in solving the complexity of the disorder but there are fundraising challenges for the event and then the physical challenge of participating in the event.’’
Everyone in the Eagles organization will be on hand May 19, every player will be involved in one way or another, and so will the entire coaching staff. Former Eagles running back and current assistant head coach Duce Staley has put together a team that will compete. Staley’s group, which also includes team CFO Frank Gumienny, had already raised over $50,000 by early March.
There will also be another team of Eagles alumni scheduled to compete. Included in that group are Ike Reese (captain), Garry Cobb, Jason Avant, Hollis Thomas, Billy McMullen, John Booty, Byron Darby, Cedrick Brown, Herb Lusk, Gerry Feehery, James Betterson, Keith Krepfle, Maurice Johnson, Mike Schad, Quintin Mikell, William Thomas, Sean Landeta and Ron Moten.
“It’s all hands on deck for the organization,’’ Hammond said. “When you’re in a situation where it comes from your owner, everyone gets on board. The entire organization, from the coaches and players to office staff will be involved in some way.
“We want this event to change the conversation from autism awareness to action. And that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish.’’
By mid-March the event had already raised in excess of $1 million. For more information or to get involved in the challenge go to www.eaglesautismchallenge.org.