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NFL Player Turned Staffer is "Hooked"

January 25, 2010

A former professional player with the National Football League, Tony Covington understands the meaning of "the power of sports"--on and off the playing field.  He told us about the difference he sees in Special Olympics athletes and how his own worldview has been transformed.

Former NFL player Tony Covington smiles with a with Special Olympics athlete

Tony Covington's worldview has been transformed after meeting Special Olympics athletes.

A Chance to Compete

Tony Covington's introduction to nonprofits came while he played professional sports, with the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.   Remembering the impact of his own role models when he was growing up, Tony sought out opportunities to be involved and speak to kids in the community.  When someone suggested looking at nonprofit work as a professional path, it just went from there.  Today he calls himself  'a lifer' - "I've been hooked every since, feeling like I am changing lives and affecting change."  That path led him to come on board full time with Special Olympics, to help raise awareness and build programs in schools and the local community.

Although Tony always understood the power of sports to transform, everything changed when he met Special Olympics athletes.  It was the height of local summer games.  At an aquatics event, Tony saw a young girl in the pool, swimming, trying to get to the finish line. Her fellow swimmers were all already out of the water and cheering her on. 

This was a defining moment.  A competitive player, Tony always believed that those who say "it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game" have never played themselves.  He recalls watching in awe -- the girl in the water and the cheering crowd -- and having an 'aha' moment.  He then realized that it is not about winning or losing, but having a chance to compete, push your own boundaries, and cross the finish line.

"Sports teach you life skills, team work, and about working hard. The competition brings out self-confidence.  To be the best you can be, you have to work hard at it – and it’s not just about sport, it’s about your life being shaped by what you learn from sports."

Beyond athletics, Special Olympics is about raising awareness and helping people with intellectual disabilities belong and thrive.  "We have significant concerns about acceptance and inclusion in school systems," he says "our athletes go through a lot of health disparities."

"When talking to the athletes they tell me about being excluded, feeling like they are not a part of society.  Special Olympics helps them gain self-confidence, feel included, and realize they are not alone.  Beyond the sports field, they gain confidence to hold jobs, take college courses, to belong."

For Tony Covington the course is clear – getting the message out;  raising awareness;  promoting inclusion and acceptance for Special Olympics athletes; and letting the world know that Special Olympics is a vehicle for change.


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