It’s almost impossible to live in Arizona—or even elsewhere in the country—and not know Larry Fitzgerald. He’s a force on the football field, an NFL wide receiver who has played with the Arizona Cardinals since 2004, and whose list of on-field and career records and awards is beyond extensive.
But Fitzgerald is known for more than his magic on the field—he’s just as known for his philanthropy.
It was his parents, he says, who taught him to give back.
“My mom always used to say, ‘We all have 24 hours in a day, no matter who you are. What you choose to do with that time is unique to you. You can choose to make the world a better place.’ My mom always challenged us to use our time wisely since tomorrow’s not guaranteed to any of us,” he shares.
Raising Money for Charities
Fitzgerald has taken that message to heart, using his visibility as an NFL player to give back. He not only volunteers his time and donates money to numerous organizations, but in 2005 launched his own charity, The Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund, and with it, events to support the organization.
“It was always a goal of mine, a dream of mine, to have something that I could call my own that would bring people together for a common goal, and that was to not only raise money, but to raise awareness of some of the things that are near and dear to my heart.”
The charity promotes reading proficiency and technology access for K-12 youth as cornerstones to success at school and in life, and supports efforts to prevent and cure breast cancer—which took his mother’s life in 2003—and support breast cancer survivors.
“That was my mission 16 years ago when I first got into the National Football League and I had a bit of a platform, it still continues to be my goal, and I hope I can do this for the next 20-plus years,” he says.
Through The Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund, Fitzgerald hosts events such as his annual Larry Fitzgerald Celebrity Softball Game, a community event that caters to families and is typically held in April, and Fitz’s Supper Club – Celebrities at YOUR Service, which is scheduled to be held Aug. 31 at Dominick’s Steakhouse.
A higher-end event, the Supper Club is limited to approximately 250 guests. One of the reasons? “So I can get to every person there and tell them thank you for coming,” Fitzgerald shares.
This will be the 12th year the event is held, and it will once again feature Fitzgerald and his celebrity friends, entertainment, and fine dining, all in an effort to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars that can then be given in grants to deserving organizations.
“I really like donating to organizations that sometimes slip through the cracks of federal funding,” Fitzgerald explains. “They’re really doing a great job in their communities, but sometimes, with budget cuts, their funds are cut. We really like to cater to those types of organizations, because as I grew up and I saw my mom working so hard in the nonprofit world, the big, giant, well-run organizations usually are the ones who got the lion’s share of the donations. … I’m not saying that we don’t donate to those organizations, but I like to donate to organizations that cater to people they can touch and see every day, and who depend on funding [to exist].”
He knows that the public forum his profession provides makes it easier to help those in need.
“I think it makes it 10 times easier to do things and to raise awareness because it’s a platform that being an athlete provides. If I was Larry Fitzgerald the taxi driver, would people still support me the way they do? Maybe, maybe not. But I know that when you’re in front of millions of people every single weekend, playing the nation’s most popular sport, I think it makes it a lot easier. And, I think that with that responsibility and platform, that you have to take advantage of it in terms of presenting yourself, the league, and your co-workers in a positive way and get out into the community. We wouldn’t be able to do the things we do without the support of the people that come out and watch the game, and buy the merchandise, and do the sponsorships. It’s awesome.”
Not only is Fitzgerald thankful to have the platform to give back as he does, but he’s grateful that he’s been able to have the career that he has.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful,” he says. “I have people that ask me what I think about my job, and I don’t look at it like a job. I feel like I’m a grown man and I play a kid’s game. It’s a lot of fun, and with the relationships that you have with teammates and the organization, you grow. You come in as a kid, and you grow into a man.”
While playing is fun, it’s definitely work, he admits.
“Once you become a professional, your journey is just beginning,” he says. “It’s hard work to keep that job and turn it into a career that can sustain.”
Of course, Fitzgerald has thrived in his career. He was selected for the Pro Bowl 11 times, named First-team All-Pro in 2008 and Second-team All-Pro 2009 and 2011, and was on the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. He is second in NFL career receiving yards and career receptions, and sixth in receiving touchdowns. He’s won awards such as the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2016) and the Art Rooney Award (2014), amongst others. In January of this year, he re-signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals.
“It’s a two-way street,” he says of why he’s stayed with Arizona for the duration of his career. “The organization has to want you to be here for a long time, and you have to want to be here for a long time. I’ve always had a wonderful relationship with the Cardinals.”
Living in the Valley
Fitzgerald, who lives in Paradise Valley, enjoys spending time at hiking Tom’s Thumb, Pinnacle Peak, Camelback Mountain, South Mountain and Piestewa Peak; playing golf; and dining at restaurants such as Steak 44, Ocean 44, Tarbell’s, Houston’s, Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles, Butterfield’s Pancake House, and El Chorro.
“I’m a restaurant guy and I love dining at different restaurants,” he says. “I probably eat out more than I should, but it’s a great way to support the local economy and build some wonderful relationships with people who do a great job.”
He also enjoys traveling to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Flagstaff, as well as traveling the world (he’s visited more than 100 countries). Still on his list? Greece, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Kazakhstan.
But always, he’s glad to return to the Valley, his home.
“I’m unbelievably thankful and I don’t take for granted the overwhelming support that this community has given me. I never can repay the way this community has treated me, and the way they’ve taken me in for 17 years now. I grew from a 20-year-old kid to a 36-year-old man here, and the relationships that I’ve built, from every single area—real estate, banking, restaurants, you name it—there’s been somebody who’s mentored me in this city. There are so many wonderful people and relationships that I’ve developed. I am unbelievably grateful and thankful that the Lord put me in this city. It’s been a blessing.”
Larry Fitzgerald’s Next Upcoming Event
What: Fitz’s Supper Club – Celebrities at YOUR Service
When: Aug. 31
Where: Dominick’s Steakhouse, 15169 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Tickets: Start at $850 per person
Sponsorship information or auction donations: Jennifer Moser, email@example.com
Benefiting The Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund