Giving better than receiving for many Detroit athletes

Terry Foster
The Detroit News

Zach Zenner’s house is where fellow Lions rookies Michael Burton and Casey Pierce gather.

“It’s a nice community,” Pierce said.

They practice together by day and eat and fraternize by night.

They also have a bigger, more important ritual — they give their time to those in need.

Players from all four Detroit pro sports teams spend numerous hours at recreation centers, schools, halfway houses and even prisons to spread cheer and words of encouragement.

“Being a professional athlete is a great platform that we use to help others, but the purpose of us being athletes is to give back,” Pierce said.

Pierce and his Lions teammates have spent time this season at places like the Haven Shelter for Domestic Violence, helping move mattresses delivered by Art Van Furniture and hauling the bedding to the second story of the 40-room facility.

This holiday season, they’ve played with children, served food and gone shopping with underprivileged kids.

“We are in a great position to help ourselves and our families, but we also want to give back to others,” Pierce said. “We love to be on the field, but off the field we love to give back as much as we can to the community.”

Focus on others

Another player giving his all off the court is Pistons forward Anthony Tolliver, who gets some help from his wife, Jessica, hosting needy families at games and providing presents and dinner.

“I’ve gotten to the point where Christmas is all about others,” Tolliver said. “I don’t really look forward to Christmas to get presents and stuff. I don’t want anything. I got everything I wanted and everything I need.

“I try to put my focus on others.”

Last weekend, Tolliver and some of his teammates — Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Reggie Jackson and Joel Anthony — sponsored 20 families on a shopping spree in Detroit.

Pistons owner Tom Gores helped the Marines Toys for Tots drive by donating 7,000 toys and bicycles to children in Port Huron, Flint, Saginaw, Bay City and Detroit.

“We want to make sure the holidays are a time of hope and happiness for children and their families in Michigan,” Gores wrote in a statement released by team officials. “It’s especially important at this time of year that kids who might otherwise go without have a reason to smile. Toys for Tots is an incredible organization and we are proud to support the important work they do.”

Haven CEO Beth Morrison believes holiday interaction between athletes and children is important for both sides.

“It is a chance for kids to be kids, a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet a celebrity and play ball with them,” Morrison said. “It is a break from the crisis and trauma in their lives.”

Making someone smile

Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy believes athletes get more out of giving than receiving.

“It brings back your perspective, No. 1 of how blessed we are in this league in terms of lifestyles and what the league affords us,” he said. “It makes you think about what is going on with other people. And as serious as this is (playing sports) to a lot of us, there are things in the big scheme of things that are a lot more important.”

Jackson said getting expensive gifts is not important to him.

The biggest thrill for him was buying for others during the shopping spree.

“That is more of what Christmas is about,” he said. “It is a thrill to put a smile on someone’s face who is less fortunate.

“When you can give back, that is the spirit of Christmas. We try to put a smile on their faces and try to put a smile on their faces and get them to enjoy the holiday season. That is what the spirit of Christmas is about for me.”