Followers of Caps philanthropy and community relations are incredibly spoiled. The team’s initiatives benefit everyone from military families, to patients at Children’s Hospital, to D.C. public school students.
The initiatives grow local youth hockey and build a more diverse and devoted fan base, so that in the future, if the Caps are unfortunate enough to suffer a slump that lasts for years, fans will still turn out in droves because we love the team and love the sport. Think the Redskins, but with ownership the fans adore rather than ownership that causes controversy.
One of the greatest aspects of these Caps initiatives is the large number of players who participate. By my count, and from limited knowledge, the vast majority of players on the active roster have already participated in community relations events this season, with almost a dozen turning out for multiple events.
Followers of these Caps initiatives were also spoiled for years by having had one of the league’s greatest philanthropists in Olie Kolzig. As I’ve mentioned before, Kolzig’s devotion to Children’s Hospital and autism during his career with the Caps was what first turned me on to the potential for professional athletes to use their public image as a platform for doing good. Since Kolzig’s departure as a player, the Caps’ philanthropic and community work has felt more like a group effort, with a few players taking up personal causes but the team’s initiatives taking center stage.
The most notable exception is Mike Green. Green earned a nomination for last year’s NHL Foundation Player Award as the co-founder of So Kids Can. So Kids Can benefits a different charity every year, rendering Green’s work somewhat less focused than Kolzig’s was, but still both consistent and extensive. If any player is positioned to become the fact of Caps community relations the way I remember Kolzig being, it is Green.
But as much as Kolzig was a positive influence on myself and other fans who grew up watching him, I prefer the situation the Caps have fallen into over one where a single player’s personal causes lead the way. I admire the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, whose personal investment in MS led him to start a foundation and inspire thousands of fans with his annual Night at the Park event. By tying philanthropy and community relations more to the team as a whole than to individual players, the Caps guarantee a longevity both to the programs and to the positive impact they have. Even a franchise player won’t be around forever, but with the right combination of philanthropy and community outreach (and a lot of other things, I’m not completely naïve), a team will be.