by James Viray

There may be no better known celebrity humanitarian than Angelina Jolie. Earlier this month, she was visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon advocating for a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Jolie's emergence as a renowned humanitarian has been remarkable for its impact—on her and on the causes she has embraced—and its grace. It doesn't take much effort to recognize how her work on global issues has reshaped her reputation. Remember the vial of Billy Bob Thornton's blood around her neck? Probably not until I just mentioned it. Which is exactly the point. However, her humanitarian efforts have only been effective in transforming her image because they have also been effective in actually raising awareness of and driving action on the issues. And her aptitude in navigating the halls of the United Nations to the mud floors of refugee camp tents has helped her avoid the uninformed actions and ignorant comments that undermine so many other celebrity humanitarians and philanthropists. The road between Hollywood and Washington, DC, and other world capitals is littered with celebrities who are less knowledgeable about their causes and less familiar with the complexities of global politics and local cultures.  

When Jolie was visiting the U.S. State Department in preparation for a 2008 visit to refugees in Iraq, I unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to meet with her. I did have the chance to sit down with NBA stars Tracy Mcgrady and Dikembe Mutombo to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan. McGrady wanted to become an advocate for humanitarian assistance to the region, but recognized the need to better understand the situation. Mutombo, already a recognized humanitarian, brought him to the State Department. My colleagues and I briefed him on the complex issues and various parties involved in the conflict and directed him to connect with specific international organizations and policymakers who were trying to raise awareness of the crisis and resolve the conflict.  

You can probably tell that I'm a fan of Angelina Jolie. I am. I admit it. She's my humanitarian crush. And you may think that I wish there were more like her. But, I actually don't want more Angelinas. There are plenty of Hollywood humanitarians and philanthropists engaging their fans on critical social and environmental issues. I want more McGradys and Mutombos. There is an opportunity for professional athletes to be a new voice on humanitarian causes on the world stage and in their local communities. 

Organizations, issue leaders and policymakers already engaged in the issues—not to mention the struggling individuals and communities touched by the issues—would welcome new leaders who can reach a new audience to raise awareness, motivate action and drive positive change.   

Athletivate is here to help professional athletes, teams and leagues to be smart about their philanthropic and humanitarian efforts and to make an impact—on themselves and their causes.