Earlier this year in Cincinnati, Green Bay Packers field manager Allen Johnson addressed an assembled group of his peers at the annual NFL Turf Symposium with a short, inspiring story about giving and asked the group to donate to the Foundation for Safer Athletic Field Environments (SAFE).
Allen — past president of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) — could sell a cinder block to a drowning man, and he certainly sold me on the importance and opportunity ahead for SAFE, the STMA’s charitable arm.
With America’s new emphasis on sports and athletic field safety, the iron is hot and newly named SAFE chief Jay Warnick, CSFM, has assembled a talented and diverse team that’s ready to strike now.
“I tip my cap to my predecessors at SAFE for the great work they have done in funding scholarships, the student challenge, the educational programs and creating important partnerships that we plan to build upon,” Jay told me. “I can’t remember a time when athlete safety was as strong in the public’s awareness. It seems like every year we emphasize safety in the fields we deliver, but it’s really happening now. We have an all-star board and we’re poised to make some big strides.”
The STMA has matured and developed the industry of athletic field management and now it’s time for SAFE to take the message of professionalism and athletic field safety out to the public. SAFE, like the financial foundational arms of any major movement, could be our most powerful vehicle for professional advancement. It has done a great job in funding scholarships and small-school access to the annual Student Challenge at the STMA’s annual conference and exhibition. SAFE released four educational and informative videos, reaching out to field stakeholders and users about basic field safety inspections. SAFE also produces fantastic, unbiased educational bulletins from panels of experts that have great value to field managers and stakeholders. SAFE has formed partnerships with several strong industry groups including NPRA, NIAAA, NTEP, TGIF and others.
With a strong SAFE Foundation, we can use the industry to go beyond industry, straight to both the field-quality stakeholders and the public with a message of safety first and professionalism in our groundsmanship on the fields. How is this done? Basically, go after all the stakeholders in athletic field safety and quality. There are a lot of them, and many are looking to make tax-deductible contributions.
We have many field managers at professional facilities with access to the athletes. Nobody likes to solicit at work, but there are usually a few players on every pro team that get it and could be approached after work so as to avoid being any kind of distraction. Talk about field-quality stakeholders! For example, give them something they can hang on their ever-present backpacks, carry-on bags or golf bags that will show their support for an important part of their livelihoods. Explain to them how it’s in their own best interest, and that of the players that will come after them. Professional athletes are the product of the fields they grew up on – SAFE is for the good of their craft, as professionals.
I also hope SAFE reaches out to the players’ unions, maybe someday hiring a well-known spokesman or spokeswoman to champion the cause of athletic field safety and how field managers take it seriously.
What about making a pitch to the professional sports clubs? These organizations almost always have a charitable arm of some type, and field quality has an impact on the team’s bottom line. Could SAFE create an informational kit for athletic field managers to best lobby the athletes and their organizations?
I have another idea – approach the athletes’ mothers. They are always the youth athletes’ best safety advocates! Check out MomsSteam.com, “The Trusted Source for Sports Parents.” Almost all of this website is devoted to athlete safety.
In the end, almost every part of our sporting public and sports businesses are stakeholders in athletic field safety and quality, and they’re beginning to wake up. It’s time for the sports field manager to become SAFE’s force- multiplier. Give what you personally can, but more importantly, through your work and your word, do your part to spread the message that there’s an organization working hard on these important issues, and they’re in need of your help.
It starts at SafeFields.org.