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CASA benefit draws former football player

Even the hold music at Henry Lawrence's office is optimistic.

"I can change the world," rocker Eric Clapton sang before the former Oakland Raiders offensive tackle picked up the phone.

Lawrence, who retired from the Raiders in 1987, lives and works in Tampa as president of Social Awareness for Everyone. The non-profit organization offers such services as credit counseling and helps people find affordable housing.

Lawrence has pledged his support to a benefit for CASA, the St. Petersburg group that shelters battered women and their children.

"It's a critical issue that we all are facing in this country," he said. "It's a problem that has existed for many years. I'm thankful God blessed me to lend some visibility to the project."

Lawrence, who is from Palmetto and graduated from Manatee High School in Bradenton, will participate in CASA's Sportstacular, a weekend-long series of sports events to raise money for the group. He said he will sing at a kickoff dinner April 4 at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and will participate in a three-on-three basketball tournament April 5 and 6.

"I'm in terrible shape _ don't tell them," Lawrence said with a laugh. "I'm just going to go out and have some fun."

This is the event's second year. Lawrence heard about it last year and offered to get involved this time. He said he hopes to participate in future events.

He also said he knew of athletes who had committed domestic violence.

"You saw what happened with the O.J. deal," he said. "The problem comes when society makes us more than people."

He hopes his involvement will show people that "athletes care, too. We are people."

Renee McInnis of CASA said she hopes Lawrence will draw a crowd.

"Sports really brings out the best in the American character," she said. "This is an opportunity for athletes _ both professional and amateur _ to come together for a good cause. The battered women and their children are the clear winners."

Registration for the events, which include a tennis and golf tournament along with the dinner and three-on-three tournament, is requested by Friday, McInnis said. Call 895-4912 for information.