Athletes pitch in to help arena staff, communities impacted by COVID-19

Athletes from around the sports world are coming together to help arena staff workers during the sports hiatus.

Athletes across the sports world are pitching in to help arena workers and communities impacted by the various postponements and cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jeremy Lin, who won a championship with the Toronto Raptors last year, opted to make a $150,000 donation to UNICEF USA — matching an earlier donation he made to fight the coronavirus outbreak in China.

“Let’s focus on what we can do in these challenging times,” Lin wrote on Instagram. “In our effort to battle this virus, I’m matching my $150,000 China foundation donation with an additional $150,000 contribution to UNICEF USA to help fight COVID-19 globally while partnering with governments.

“…It doesn’t matter how much you donate or what you do, just encouraging everyone take one step to love someone in need. Love melts hate. Light outshines darkness. Be a part of the change you wanna see. Stay together, much love.”

Earlier in the day, Sergei Bobrovsky pledged to donate $100,000 to help cover the salaries of arena workers who have been displaced as a result of the NHL’s pause, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Bobrovsky’s teammates are committed to matching this amount, and Florida ownership has also pledged to ensure any further outstanding amounts are taken care of.

The donation mirrors similar pledges made by other high-profile athletes.

On Friday evening, New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson posted on his Instagram account that he will be covering the salaries of workers at Smoothie King Center for the next 30 days.

“These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization,” Williamson wrote on Instagram. “Unfortunately, many of them are still recovering from long term challenges created by Katrina, and now face the economic impact of the postponement of games because of the virus.

“My mother has always set an example for me about being respectful for others and being grateful for what we have, and so today I am pledging to cover the salaries for all of those Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days.”

On Thursday, NBA star Kevin Love kick-started donations by pledging $100,000 to workers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will be out of work during the NBA’s hiatus.

Since then, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Blake Griffin have pledged the same amount to help arena workers for the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons, respectively.

“It’s bigger than basketball!” Antetokounmpo said in a Twitter post. “And during this tough time I want to help the people that make my life, my family’s lives and my teammates lives easier. Me and my family pledge to donate $100,000 to the Fiserv Forum staff. We can get through this together!”

The rest of Milwaukee’s roster later followed suit in supporting the arena staff. And the Bucks have said they’ll match all player donations, according to a report from Milwaukee Journal Sentinal‘s Matt Velazquez

Houston Astros outfielder George Springer will donate $100,000 to employees at his home stadium, Minute Maid Park, according to Fox 26’s Mark Berman.

“These are the people that help take care of my family when I go to work,” Springer said. “Now I want to help take care of them when they’re in a time of need.”

Pausing professional sports seasons — a necessary step in helping promote the social distancing which has proven effective at curtailing the spread of the novel coronavirus in China and South Korea — has had the side effect of putting many part-time and hourly arena workers’ livelihood in jeopardy.

Though commendable, player donations alone will likely not be enough to support those affected if work stoppages last for an extended period of time.

To that end, some teams and ownership groups have enacted steps to help ensure workers are taken care of.

The Golden State Warriors’ ownership, players and coaches have pledged money to establish a $1-million disaster relief fund, the team announced on Friday night.

The fund will provide assistance for the more than 1,000 part-time employees who work in various roles at Chase Center and have been adversely impacted by the NBA schedule being halted.

“The men and women who work our games at Chase Center are critical in providing an incredible game-night experience for our fans, including of course, the popcorn vendors,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry in a press release. “As players, we wanted to do something, along with our ownership and coaches, to help ease the pain during this time.”

Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators, has committed to paying part-time workers amid the stoppage, as has SAP Center — home of the San Jose Sharks. On March 14, Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls owners Rocky Wirtz and Jerry Reinsdorf announced in a statement that they would continue to pay day-of-game employees through the end of the season, as well.

Henry and Susan Samueli, who own the Anaheim Ducks, have reportedly pledged to continue paying full- and part-time employees who were scheduled to work at Honda Center through March 31.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced Friday that they plan to pay full and part-time arena and service employees at PPG Paints Arena. The funding will come from the Penguins players the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.

“The ushers, ticket takers, concession workers, cleaning staff and other arena workers are the backbone of a Penguins hockey game at PPG Paints Arena, and a big part of the Penguins’ family,” said team president and CEO David Morehouse in a statement. “Our owners, Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, and our players, led by Sidney Crosby, thought it was essential to help them through this. We have come together to ensure that they will not lose pay because of the pause in our season.”

Similarly, Canucks Sports and Entertainment — which owns the Vancouver Canucks and Rogers arena — committed to helping their workers, although specifics are not yet available.

“CSE has committed to a program that will help any part-time employee who requires support,” Trent Carroll, the company’s chief operating officer, said on Friday. “The program will be based on individual need, to avoid financial hardship during this unexpected employment disruption.”

Oilers Entertainment Group made a similar commitment on Saturday afternoon.

“The pause of NHL hockey, concerts and events at Rogers Place has hit everyone hard, but it has created an even more difficult situation for our nearly 1,650 part time staff. As a result, we are rolling out an assistance program to ensure their well-being is protected,” OEG president business and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi said in a team statement. “All part time staff affected by a temporary halt in our operations will receive financial payment to bridge them between their maximum EI benefits and their regular average earnings for remaining regular season games.”

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