Inside the beautiful Flamingo Room at Gulfstream Park, over 100 business leaders and elected officials gathered to meet former football players who have become well-known for their achievements on and off the field, including Chris Chambers, Brandon Marshall, OJ McDuffie, Don Silvestri and Duane Starks, all members of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) South Florida Chapter. The Aventura Marketing Council/Chamber of Commerce (AMC) Chairman’s Roundtable and Sports Committee partnered with that Chapter to present this very special luncheon that was filled with great moments of football memories as well as insights as to what drives these athletes today. (see inside pages for additional articles about participants’ charities)
AMC Chairman Gary Pyott, Association 1st, and Sports Committee Chairman Ben Launerts of Park 1, welcomed everyone and introduced the meeting sponsors. Michael Fucheck, Legal Counsel to Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino, said, “We’re delighted to have you here at Gulfstream Park. Right here in your backyard is the #1 racetrack in the U. S. as measured by attendance and betting volume. Our signal is the most widely- disseminated horse track signal in the world, reaching out to almost every country.
Gulfstream Park, home of the world’s richest horse race, the Pegasus, is now undergoing a major refresh of our clubhouse which will take about one year.”
Bernardo Rieber, CEO of Rieber Developments, said, “I’m originally from Venezuela, and have been in this wonderful country for 20 years, 15 of those here in Aventura. I have developed a very special love for this community, and I am eager to give back, which I view as a tremendous honor, and a great responsibility. We have two major projects we are currently developing in Aventura: one is 12|12 Aventura, a premier mixed-use project with offices for medical professionals, a luxury senior living component and vibrant dining and shopping. Its sister development, the under-construction Ivory 214, is a medical and professional office building with an accompanying Tapestry Collection by Hilton hotel, which will serve as the epicenter of the new Aventura Medical District. The project, designed by Arquitectonica, will also feature a Chelsea Market New York style food hall on the ground floor.
As our development’s focus is medical, we believe healing begins with architecture, and when we set out to develop this project, we ensured every element was thoughtfully designed with this in mind.”
Ben Launerts introduced Emcee Jim Berry, the main Sports Anchor for CBS4 News who anchors the weeknight sportscasts and the station’s extensive Miami Dolphins coverage. “During football season, Jim hosts the pre-game show “Dolphins Weekly Live”, and the 5th Quarter post game show. Jim is a three-time Best of Miami winner, and has won five Emmys and is a frequent motivational speaker at school.”
With a huge smile, Jim Berry said, “I’m here today to introduce four gentlemen who were not just great athletes but have also gone ‘above and beyond’ in terms of ‘giving back’ to their communities. There’s a fifth gentleman who had to leave early due to a family emergency…. Brandon Marshall– the first guy around football that anyone called “The Beast”! Brandon went to the Univ. of Central Florida and was a big receiver on the field. He wasn’t considered a speedster…ran really slow, but he caught everything… he was one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL. Brandon was a hard guy to understand…. finally, one day, he talked about the emotional issues that he faced. Many of us thought that was such a brave thing for a “macho” football player to do. He has now made it his mission through Project 375 to share that message so other people in the same position can seek help.
Even tho’ he’s not here, let’s salute Brandon Marshall who also rebuilt an entire park in his hometown!”
Continuing on with athlete introductions, Berry said, “” Let’s start with a young man born and raised in So. Florida. He went to Miami Beach Sr. High, played football at the “U” and was such a star player there that he was drafted right into the Baltimore Ravens. He had a key interception in Super Bowl XXXV that put the game on ice against the NY Giants. But he never forgot where home was, and after a stellar NFL career, he has come back and become a huge part of this community with all his charity work through his Quest for Success scholarships in Overtown…. welcome Mr. Duane Starks!”
“Next up, let’s talk about what I think are the smartest guys in the NFL…the placekickers. They don’t have to hit anybody too often or get hit too often… but they do have to perform in those pressure- packed situations and deliver. So often when a game is on the line, it’s the placekickers who make or break a game. This gentleman did just that in the NFL, Canadian Football League, the Arena Football League and even played in NFL Europe with wild and crazy rules…if you kicked a field goal that was longer than 50 yards, it wasn’t 3 points, it was 4! But he’s returned to So. Florida and made this his home and his involvement in a recent and very important organization, Parkland Cares, his mission. Welcome, Mr. Don Silvestri!”
“This next one is so easy…one of my favorite all-time Dolphins…. grew up in Ohio went to Penn State and there caught the eye of the Miami Dolphins. When he got here, he immediately became one of Dan Marino’s favorite targets. If Dan didn’t trust you, he wasn’t throwing you the ball, but he threw the ball to this man all the time because he trusted him. He was one of the most reliable guys he had…he’s 5’10”, but his hands are huge, and he caught everything. He has also made So. Florida his home, played his entire NFL career with the Dolphins, and does great things with so many charities…Mr. OJ McDuffie!”
“And last, but certainly not least …NFL receiver for 10 seasons out of Wisconsin, became team’s Rookie of the Year, Dolphins Team MVP, selected to Pro-Bowl and more. I remember a Monday night game where he leaped HIGH and caught the ball and then somebody caught him. Chris was knocked out cold, but he held onto that ball…. this guy has a ton of heart! He has stayed in So. Florida and been involved in many charities. He’s a very warm-hearted guy…like OJ, he’s really a student of the game, and that’s what made them both so successful. As we round out our panel, please welcome Mr. Chris Chambers!”
DUANE STARKS: It is an honor to be here and represent my community, the Overtown community, where my Quest for Success has given out over 150 scholarships to deserving students going to college to pay for books and tuition. Now I’m putting together a decathlon and raising monies to have a program with all the neighboring parks with the funds going to the parks’ programs, so they are sustainable throughout the year. It’s important to be a role model doing positive things so the kids have someone to look up to and realize they can do it as well. Having that positive role model say “When I make it, I want to give back” is the best life lesson they can learn. And I want to be a person who teaches that lesson.
DON SILVESTRI: It’s important to be in an environment where people really care, and that’s one of the reasons why we chose to settle down in Florida. All of us were shocked as the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas unfolded, and we wanted to do something to help. My wife Alissa and I realized that there are youngsters out there crying for help, but there’s a stigma about getting mental help therapy. What we’re trying to do is provide free mental health counseling for these kids who are still re-living that tragedy. These kids may need years of therapy after seeing their friends die in front of them…just recently we saw two people commit suicide on the one-year anniversary of the Parkland massacre. And health insurance doesn’t cover more than a few mental health sessions…so we’re trying to bring awareness and raise funds through Parkland Cares. We have a two-day event coming up next Spring called “We are Stoneman” and we’d love to have folks here come out and support us.
OJ McDUFFIE: We have an annual bowling tournament where we raise money for different charities. We’ve done a lot of events for the past 20 years, like golf tournaments for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the American Heart Association, and then we decided to select one or two that were really important to us. My Mom, who is my buddy, and I started focusing on raising funds for single parent homes to help people who don’t have the resources through my Catch81 Foundation. My Mom had me when she was 15 years old, and she went on to graduate high school, get her college degree, then her Masters’ Degree and run a bank for 20 years. My Mom was 1 of 13 children and was the first to graduate from college. I actually went to college when I was three because I was in the back of the class with her when she was at class. Two of the charities near and dear to our hearts are the B Right Leadership Academy, a little school for kids to learn discipline and structure and the Sheridan House.
CHRIS CHAMBERS: From all my fellow athletes here today, thank you for honoring us. Growing up and having a guy like OJ from a similar single parent family meant a lot to me… it kept me out of trouble. Up North, athletes played two or three sports, and I played football and basketball. So, when OJ would invite the guys to his home with a basketball court in his backyard, all the guys would go for the fun and camaraderie. I had so many role models who gave me guidance and support, that it carried on into my pro career and encouraged me to give back, so I created the Catch84 Foundation. We hold football camps, give scholarships and run clinics for student athletes. We also provide financial literacy programs for high school kids going into college. For college athletes that go into the NFL, we have another program to help them through all they will experience.
Jim Berry closed the program, saying “You’ve seen these guys for years on the field, and now you have an opportunity to really know them and what they care about. What they care about is you and our kids. On behalf of everyone here, I want to thank our athletes for all that you do for our community. It’s great to be an athlete who entertains, but far more important to be a role model that cares. These gentlemen, and in the audience we also have the inimitable Floyd Raglin, Ray Crittenden and Roy Barker, all from the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) South Florida Chapter, an organization of former players led by Eric Robinson, that is dedicated to ‘giving back’ to their communities, and we are delighted to have partnered with them today to present this program. This is just a small sample of the many athletes who have made South Florida their home and who do great things, day in, day out, year after year. Super Bowl 2020 will be here next year, and these charitable programs will have much more visibility, so please go out and support them!”