Mental health giving just isn’t what it used to be. Odd, isn’t it, that in this era of heightened awareness of a variety of mental health issues—from the ones that lead to massacres like Sandy Hook and Fort Hood to the ones that simply add stress and strife to families’ lives all around the country—there isn’t growing support for research? Chalk it up to whatever you want—the old dogged stigmas surrounding mental illness, the economy, what have you—but the fact is, to get mental health funding nowadays, you have to know where to look. And you have to face down some stiff competition.
Fortunately, mental health giving—specifically veterans’ mental health giving—got a big shot in the arm last August when Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander announced a $1 million gift to found Wins for Warriors, an organization designed to provide support for the Give an Hour and The Mission Continues programs, two charitable initiatives focused on veterans’ mental health and integration. Because Verlander is a native of the Norfolk/Richmond area of Virginia who plays ball in Detroit, Wins for Warriors will focus its giving on these geographic areas.
The most interesting thing about this gift is that it defies the usual explanations behind a big philanthropic give. Verlander isn’t a vet himself; he didn’t come from a military family. He doesn’t have a brother or a cousin in the service. Rather, he just grew up in the Norfolk/Richmond area, one of the biggest military communities in the country, and he absorbed an intense understanding of vets’ issues. “These men and women are taught to be big and strong; some come home and need our help,” says Verlander. “But they won’t be the first to raise their hand.” Usually, there’s some underlying personal reason, or a desire for at least some media attention or talk of “charitable legacy.” But Verlander, 31, is too young to be thinking about legacy, and he’s picking a realm of philanthropy not particularly trendy at the moment. We’d say he’s just a decent guy wanting to do right by vets, and we can’t help but stand behind that.
Given Verlander’s straight-ahead altruism, it’s hard not to wish he was a pitcher for the Yankees or even the Braves—someone with the benefit of a little more limelight than the Detroit Tigers ball club currently affords. But on some level, an MLB pitcher is an MLB pitcher, and we’ll hope his gift may spur well-publicized giving from other big-time athletes.