Guest Post: Mercy Project

Chris Field is the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization Mercy Project. His claim to fame is that his first varsity hit was a three run homerun. Unfortunately, that was his only hit of the entire season (he finished 1 for 26 with a .038 BA). You can find him on Facebook and Twitter under mercyproject.

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This site has successfully established a rich and complex relationship between college sports and business. It’s fascinating for the sports nerds among us (and you probably qualify unless you ended up here by accident) to pore over the numbers game behind the teams and sports we love to watch and cheer on. Sports are indeed big business, and it’s riveting stuff.

But today, Kristi and Alicia have graciously given me the chance to write about another part of the world of sports that I don’t think we talk about enough—the ways sports can bring us together and bring out our best.

This weekend, from Friday to Sunday, a group of 56 players from around Texas will play a non-stop, 49-hour baseball marathon that will land them in the Guinness Book of World Records. As the game is played none of the players involved will leave the playing area. Food, short naps, and bathroom breaks will all take place within a few hundred feet of the foul lines. To be clear, these are not All Star baseball players either. Just one of the players had a short stint playing college ball, and the rest of them would do well to look smooth in front of your typical freshman high school team. But what this group lacks in athleticism they more than make up for in sheer insanity.

How crazy are they? This will actually be their third world record in the last 24 months. First they played kickball for 50 hours, then flag football for 24 hours, and now baseball for 49 hours. So who are these people, and what do these world records have to do with the best of humanity? To answer that, we have to go back to August of 2009 when I found myself in a boat, in the middle of a huge lake, in Ghana, Africa. It was there that my life would be changed forever when I met a 9-year old boy named Tomas. It was there that I held the hand of a child slave.

Experts estimate that slavery is more prevalent in the world today than at any other point in history. That’s depressing to think about, isn’t it? It certainly is for me. I had heard snippets here and there about modern day slavery, but it all became a crushing reality the day I met Tomas. To actually hold the hand of a child who had been purchased for about $20, and was now owned by another human, was simultaneously shocking and heart wrenching.

I was even more shocked to find out that Tomas was just one of an estimated 7,000 children in Ghana who have been sold by their destitute parents to work in the labor intensive fishing industry. These children can be as young as five years old, and they work nearly 100 hours a week for their slave masters. To look into their eyes is to see the living dead as they convey an emptiness that still haunts me nearly 2 ½ years after first meeting Tomas.

One of the many children Field has met while on the lake in Ghana.

I’ve now been to Ghana 14 times, and my wife and I run a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children like Tomas to be rescued and brought new life. Our model involves teaching new methods of cage fishing (called aquaculture) so that the men who own the children will no longer have the need for this child labor.

Mercy Project founder Chris Field and a child in Ghana.

We are literally “teaching a man to fish” so that these children can be rescued and returned to their families.

So that these children can actually be kids again.

So that these children can run, and laugh, and play games like baseball.

That’s why we keep doing these crazy world records. Not for the chance to show our kids we made it into a fat book of records at their school library but so that we can tell our kids we really tried to make a difference. We saw something that was broken, and we tried to find creative ways to fix it.

These events have given us an outlet to do that. They are a way for the average person, athlete or far from it, to be a participant in a way that connects them to something bigger than themselves. Because that’s what sports do, isn’t it? Connect us to something bigger than ourselves? We become fans of a team and get the chance to live vicariously through their touchdowns, three pointers, and triple overtime wins. To feel like a part of an exclusive club because these are “our guys or girls” and “my team.” Sports does that in us.  It does that to us. It gives us a way to feel like we belong.

In the case of these ridiculous sports marathons, it gives us the chance to feel like we belong to something bigger than ourselves. To play a kid’s game, for kids who don’t get to play, is fiercely symbolic and richly poignant. Playing baseball for 49 hours gives us an opportunity to say, “I’m doing this on your behalf, Tomas. Because every child should get to run and play games like this. I’m playing because you don’t get to, and I will keep playing until you get to sub in for me at one of these events.”

Participants enjoy a game of football to support Mercy Project.

But it’s not just symbolic. This game also gives us the chance to do something really tangible and significant. General donations (from people like you) and player sponsorships from this weekend’s game should total more than $30,000. That’s enough money to fund an entire village’s economic development project. That’s enough money to rescue an entire village of slave children. All from a simple baseball game.

The power of sports is broad, and it’s certainly big business. But it’s also world changing. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tomas in a few years.

***To make a donation for this event and the kids in Ghana, you can go here.***

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