In the NFL’s view, the annual Super Bowl extravaganza isn’t merely about championship professional football. It’s also about an opportunity for the league to engage with host cities from a community-relations standpoint, “giving back” to those cities with two main nonprofit initiatives. Those initiatives are the Taste of the NFL event, whose proceeds benefit food banks, and the Youth Education Town, a recreation center for the host area’s low-income, at-risk youth.
For Super Bowl XLV, however, a third philanthropic endeavor is being added—one that could become a part of every Super Bowl in the future. Under the groundbreaking new “legacy” program called SLANT 45 (short for Service Learning Adventures in North Texas), more than 20,000 elementary-aged students from North Texas starting in June will log at least 45,000 hours of community service, doing everything from beautifying their neighborhoods to visiting senior citizens in retirement centers.
With former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush serving as honorary co-chairs, SLANT 45 is being directed by former Dallas Cowboys star Daryl Johnston, chair of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee’s SLANT 45 Action Team. The program was designed and will be managed by Big Thought, a Dallas-based nonprofit that focuses on public education through creative learning under Gigi Antoni, its president and CEO.
Already, the program is being billed as the largest education initiative ever undertaken by a Super Bowl host committee.
Big Thought and the host committee have engaged the North Texas chapters of the Junior League and The Links Inc. to serve as volunteer liaisons for SLANT 45. Bank of America and philanthropists Ted and Shannon Skokos are sponsoring the initiative, according to Bill Lively, president and CEO of the North Texas Super Bowl host committee.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” says Lively, when asked how the committee came up with the concept. “The game needed a conscience. It needed something with substance beyond what it already had. It had the YET and the Taste of the NFL as important humanitarian causes, but nothing that really impacted children in a lasting way. So we just felt like it was imperative to create something with the potential to be franchised.”
Impacting children was also the goal of BofA—the official bank of the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys. It donated $500,000 for SLANT 45. Meanwhile the Skokos family foundation, which ponied up $1 million for Super Bowl XLV charity efforts, designated half that amount for SLANT 45.
The service-learning project is valuable “because it teaches kids to be a part of the community and to give back,” Ted Skokos says. “It’s so important to teach kids what we learned as kids, to stop our madness—that we’re rushing to do this, rushing to do that, with no time for the simple things. It’s so important to get back to basics, to teach them about the work ethic and an ethic of taking care of others. If we can instill that in our kids, the next generations are going to be in really great shape.”
Already, the program is being billed as the largest education initiative ever undertaken by a Super Bowl host committee. And Johnston, whose goal is to see SLANT 45 become a permanent fixture at future Super Bowls, believes that far more than 20,000 children will become involved in Dallas-Fort Worth. “I’ve always felt we were very modest in our goals,” he says. “There’s already projections that we’re probably closer to 30,000 kids. Our numbers could get high pretty quick.”
The program’s size and breadth has impressed Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s senior vice president, events. “I’ve not seen anything as ambitious as this, and it’s really exciting,” he says. “What I think is really neat about it is it’s more than an academic program and it’s more than an intellectual enrichment program. It’s really about a lifestyle of giving service to the community.”
From the start, Johnston’s inspiration for SLANT 45 has been the Taste of the NFL, an annual charitable event that began in 1992. That’s the year Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl. Minneapolis-area restaurateur Wayne Kostroski came up with the idea for Taste, a mammoth feast that has famous chefs from all 32 NFL cities whipping up their specialties for thousands of guests the night before the big game.
Taste of the NFL, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, will be staged at the Fort Worth Convention Center on Saturday night, Feb. 5. It will feature cuisine prepared by chefs representing all the NFL cities, as well as former NFL players from all the NFL teams and internationally known entertainers.
Profits from the food-and-wine event—all of which go to hunger relief in all 32 NFL cities—totaled more than $8 million prior to the 2010 Super Bowl in South Florida. Proceeds from Fort Worth’s event will benefit food banks in North Texas as well as the other NFL cities. For the first time in its history, the goal of the 20th anniversary Taste of the NFL will be to generate $1 million in net revenue. At press time, the Super Bowl committee also said a sponsor had been secured for the first time to help make it happen.
“Taste is the party with a purpose,” Kostroski told a reporter recently. “We are very excited and honored to celebrate our landmark anniversary event in Fort Worth, with all its great tradition, and its noted spirit of community giving.”
The Super Bowl’s other major legacy initiative, the Youth Education Town center, will be located in Arlington. So far, 15 of these centers have gone up in Super Bowl and Pro Bowl cities since the YET program was started. The centers are intended to serve underprivileged children in poor neighborhoods, with services including tutoring and mentoring, computer education, career training, and access to sports programs.
The Arlington center—the location of which hadn’t been decided at press time—will be funded by a $1 million grant from the NFL, plus another $1 million from the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Arlington Youth Foundation. Charlotte Jones Anderson, a Dallas Cowboys executive who serves on the North Texas Super Bowl host committee’s executive board and on the board of NFL Charities, says the YET center fits the mission of the foundation, which was created when Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium went up.
The foundation “is used to really help kids develop who can’t run with the ball themselves,” she says.
The foundation’s donation to the YET center was also important to the Jones family, she adds, because of Super Bowl XLV itself. “For the Cowboys and our family, I think this game is so important for our region,” Anderson says. “It’s a good opportunity to showcase this area to the world. Not just in football, but for what we have a chance to do as a community.”
A key part of that, it’s clear, is giving back.