Sunday, June 24, 2018
Sports

Global ambassadors for American football

A spirited brainstorming session over noodles.

That's how Breno Giacomini and Gary Barnidge — a couple of ambitious NFL players intent on making a difference beyond the field — and their buddy Ahmed Awadallah came up with their mission to take American football all over the world.

"We kind of just sat down at P.F. Chang's and started talking about what was going to be our next thing to help out the community," Giacomini recalled of that dinner in Kentucky in 2011. "We didn't know sitting at that table that it was going to get this big. Not even close."

The impassioned idea developed into American Football Without Barriers, a nonprofit that educates disadvantaged children in the United States and overseas about the sport.

Next stop: Egypt.

Giacomini, an offensive lineman for the Jets, and Barnidge, a tight end for the Browns, are taking the field in the Middle East this week for AFWB's latest international trip after holding camps in China, Brazil and Turkey the previous three years.

"We want to build from the ground up," Barnidge said. "We want people playing the sport and enjoying it like we do."

Giacomini and Barnidge will be joined at German University in Cairo from today through Saturday by 10 other NFL players, including the recently retired Marshawn Lynch, Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams, Texans offensive lineman Oday Aboushi and Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron.

In conjunction with the Egyptian Federation of American Football, AFWB will have free camps for players ages 14-25, as well as a coaching clinic led by Giacomini.

"The love of the game is definitely spreading throughout the world," Giacomini said, "and we're trying to be contributors to that wherever we go."

Barnidge and Giacomini were teammates at the University of Louisville, and Awadallah, an engineer at Yums Brand, was their classmate. All three enjoyed community work while in school and decided to take it to the next level when they established themselves in their careers.

Barnidge was the Browns' winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award this season for his work.

"Gary and I will be doing this for a very long time," said Giacomini, 30. "This is part of Plan B after football."

AFWB receives proposals every year from American football federations around the world to have the camp held in their country. Camps are also held in Malden, Mass., where Giacomini was raised, and Middleburg, Fla., where Barnidge is from, and one is being added in Kentucky.

The plan hatched from that initial dinner meeting was to head to Egypt, where Awadallah was born and raised. He had a friend conducting football drills there, but the political turmoil in that country in 2013 steered the group to China instead.

"There's a lot more football in the world than people think," said Giacomini. "In China ... they're up to maybe 15 padded teams. In Brazil, they started on the beach and they're up to like 45 padded teams now. Same thing with Istanbul."

One of AFWB's goals is to get a player on a U.S football scholarship.

"We almost had one kid from China get a D-III (opportunity), but he chose to go to Stanford instead for academics," Giacomini said. "That's like, 'Okay, you win.' "

But there's a humanitarian aspect, too, with visits to orphanages and hospitals while players learn about the cultures they're experiencing.

"All the players are like, 'Man, I just want to keep doing more stuff like this,' " Giacomini said. "If we change one kid's life, we did our job."

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