Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano honoured with Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award

By Wes Gilbertson

This is a heavyweight honour.

By Postmedia Network | July 12 (National Post)

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano was saluted Tuesday as the winner of ESPN’s Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award, the first recipient since it was renamed for the legendary boxing champion.

“I am so incredibly honoured to receive this award,” Giordano said in a statement. “To be mentioned in the same sentence as Muhammad Ali is something I could never imagine. Mr. Ali was more than just an athlete, he was a global icon that led numerous humanitarian efforts to better the lives of thousands around the world.

“I would like to thank the Ali family and ESPN along with congratulating all nominees for their community efforts. I share this award with the Calgary Flames organization, the Flames ownership group and all Calgarians as I am fortunate to live in a first-class city that on a daily basis strives to make our community better. Most importantly, I would like to thank my wife Lauren, whose tireless efforts have helped make what our Team Giordano program is today.”

The list of finalists for the award also included receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, outfielder Curtis Granderson of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets and Ernie Els, a four-time major champion golfer.

That’s impressive company.

Even more impressive, Giordano was the one called to the stage at Tuesday’s gala in Los Angeles to accept the award, presented to an athlete “whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a positive impact on their community through sports” and renamed for the iconic and influential boxer after his death in June 2016.

As the recipient of the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award, the 33-year-old defenceman will receive a US$100,000 grant from ESPN to direct to his Team Giordano program.

Giordano earns plenty of praise for his on-ice efforts, but the stats on his charity endeavours are equally impressive.

Through their Team Giordano initiative, Mark and his wife, Lauren, are working to support students at four high-need schools in Calgary, with a focus on providing encouragement in both academics and physical fitness and promoting healthy lifestyles, leadership and community involvement.

In just three seasons so far, Team Giordano has totalled $300,000 in donations and impacted the lives of 1,900 youngsters.

Calgary’s captain has also helped build five homes with Habitat for Humanity and is a supporter of several other worthy causes.

“On behalf of the Calgary Flames ownership group and the entire organization, I would like to congratulate Mark and Lauren on receiving this incredible distinction,” said Ken King, the president of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, in a statement. “The time and energy they have invested to create positive change within the Calgary community is remarkable and I am extremely pleased to see their names alongside one of the most influential sports figures of our generation.

“They are creating an extraordinary legacy for their family, the Flames organization, and our entire community.”

Giordano was the winner of the NHL Foundation Player Award in 2016 and was among the hat-trick of nominees this season for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

Now, he needs to clear another spot – preferably, a prime piece of real estate – on his mantle.

“The last guy who wants to be recognized for this stuff is Mark Giordano,” said Flames general manager Brad Treliving after the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award finalists were announced. “People don’t know half the stuff he does do, but it’s just part of his DNA. He strongly believes that it is his responsibility to do the things that he does away from the rink. Nobody has to tell him.

“I’m proud of what we do off the ice and he leads the way. We’ve had people and coaches and players come from other teams where you’ve heard, ‘Oh geez, people are having to arm-bar people to do stuff.’ Our guys smile and say ‘What time and where?’ and it’s because Mark says ‘This is how we operate.’ It’s not a surprise that he gets recognized for these things. When you’re around him every day, that’s just the person he is and it’s a pretty special quality which he has.”