Writer Amanda Christmann
Photography Courtesy of Loralei Lazurek and Courtesy of Larry Fitzgerald

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]enturies ago, according to legend, the French writer, historian and philosopher Voltaire is believed to have said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If he were to glance down from his heavenly abode (or wherever it is that his soul has been all these years), he could hardly find a better example of his words in action when it comes to the Valley’s own Larry Fitzgerald.

It isn’t only his skills on the gridiron that make Fitz a community hero. He is known for his unblemished integrity, and for using his fame and position to create opportunities for Arizonans and people in his native Minnesota, and for people all over the globe.

Fitz takes that responsibility seriously. After all, it’s something that he grew up with.

“My parents met in high school and got married after college,” he said. “My dad was able to follow his dream to be a sports journalist, and my mom was a teacher.

“My dad is an honest, truthful man, and he and my mother taught my brother Marcus and me love and respect. Neither of them took short cuts when it came to anything we did. My mother was highly involved in charitable endeavors, and they were both loving parents.

“We had great balance in our lives because of my parents. We got to see sports, and we also got to see genuine compassion and caring through both of them,” Fitzgerald added.

He is passing that sense of charity and compassion forward—in hundreds of ways.

In 2005, Larry established the First Down Fund. His primary goals were to promote reading proficiency and technology access for children and their schools; and to help to fund the fight against breast cancer and to support survivors. Both were inspired, in large part, by his love for his mother, Carol, who lost her own extended battle with breast cancer during his freshman year of college.

Like everything else he’s put his mind to, Fitzgerald has shown unwavering dedication to his First Down Fund. To-date, he has provided about $300,000 to over 200 vetted organizations working toward the causes he champions. This year, the First Down Fund is expected to contribute at least $600,000.

A big portion of that funding will come from contributions from his annual fundraiser: Fitz’s Supper Club 2018: Celebrities at Your Service for First and Ten, held at Dominick’s Steak House.

The August 27 dinner marks a decade of success for the First Down Fund, and gives the humble superstar an opportunity to reminisce some of the most unforgettable plays made both on the gridiron and off the field.

Executive chef Marc Lupino kicks off the event with a menu of some of Larry’s favorite post-game favorites and cocktails, but the servers are the real stars. They include a roster of Larry’s AZ Cardinals teammates and other celebrity friends.

It’s all part of Fitz’s drive to change the world by using the visibility he’s gained to motivate and empower those in need, in our community and beyond.

In life as in sports, it’s always a team effort for Fitzgerald. This year, he teamed up with Microsoft in his native Minneapolis to provide Surface technology and a portable library of tablet devices that students can check out for use at home. It’s all part of an evolving set of partnerships with private and public businesses, organizations and individuals that allow him to increase the impact of his work.

The First Down Fund has helped hundreds of partner organizations to purchase computers, books and playgrounds, and to fund chess tournaments to encourage kids to develop wholesome, intellectual strategies for life.

Each year, the fund donates to the Plano Child Development Center, which provides vision screenings and glasses to children who would not otherwise have access to them. It’s another cause with seeds planted early in his life; Plano was founded by Larry’s late grandfather, Dr. Robert Johnson.

In addition, every year the First Down Fund contributes to organizations that provide research, support groups and free mammograms for both men and women. In doing so, Larry hopes that other children will have the opportunity to grow up with mothers and grandmothers in their lives.

It’s also part of his effort to impart his parents’ kindness and strong values on his own sons.

“I want my kids to be healthy, honest people who grow up and contribute something positive in the world.”