ST. LOUIS — So, what happens when Joe Buck and Brad Pitt’s brother walk into a bar in Tanzania and stumble upon a St. Louis Rams defensive end?
Well, as it turns out, one really good idea takes root.
It was the summer of 2014, and Chris Long and his former teammate James Hall were in a bar outside Moshi, Tanzania, celebrating their successful hike of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak. Even for a professional athlete, the seven-to-eight-day journey was a physically grueling task, the completion of which brought a huge sense of relief.
As Long and Hall were enjoying a celebratory beer, in walked Doug Pitt and Buck, the latter of whom Long had known since childhood, thanks to Buck’s work with his father, Howie, at FOX Sports.
“Holy crap! What are you all doing here?” Long exclaimed.
It turned out Pitt, who had been named a goodwill ambassador for Tanzania by its president in 2010, was taking Buck on a water project. Pitt also served on the board of WorldServe, an organization based in the Pitts’ boyhood home of Springfield, Missouri, that for over a decade has been helping people get access to clean water in East Africa by drilling sustainable wells. According to The Water Project, among the 783 million people around the globe who don’t have access to safe water, 37 percent are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Pitt and Buck sang the praises of the water project for the relaxing mountaineers.
“You should do it at some point,” Long recalls them saying. “It’s a really rewarding experience.”
And so, that summer, a question began to form in Long’s mind: How could he get the rest of the NFL involved?
“There’s a lot of foundations that I’ve seen do work for clean water in various regions,” says Long, who is preparing for his eighth season with the Rams. “I have teammates that have gone to El Salvador, I’ve heard of guys going to East Africa, I’ve heard of guys doing little things here and there to raise money for a project. I just had this idea that we’re stronger as a group, and we’re more able to engage fan fund-raising and corporate sponsors to fund-raise if we show our strength as a group.”
The result is the Waterboys Initiative, a project launched in conjunction with WorldServe and The Chris Long Foundation. Long held a fund-raiser for the cause Wednesday night at Morton’s Steakhouse in Clayton, with Buck, Howie Long, Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and linebacker James Laurinaitis in attendance. The event also officially celebrated the launch of Long’s foundation, although it’s quietly been in existence for a little while.
In fact, Long admits there was much more to launching the foundation than he’d realized when, during his first several years in the league, he brainstormed how to unite the various community projects he’d been involved in under one umbrella.
“There’s a whole litany of stuff you have to handle,” Long says. “It’s not like you can walk in and say, ‘Uh, I want to launch my foundation tomorrow,’” admitting that’s essentially what he did two years ago.
“My people, they were like, ‘Hey, slow down — we’ll get it done, but this takes time,’” Long says.
Time that turned out to be well spent. Long walked away from his trip to Tanzania with an incredible appreciation for the country’s beauty and its welcoming population, but also a desire to give back to the region. Add one network broadcaster and one Hollywood star’s brother in an African bar and boom, Long was onto something big.
“The place just stayed on my heart,” Long says. “As I launch the foundation, (it was) the first thing that I wanted to roll out, because I think there’s a lot of good people in the NFL who are very giving and (have) already got to kind of see that this is a legit cause, and something that, hey, we can make a real, tangible difference.”
The WorldServe website describes another phase of the Waterboys Initiative, where various locker rooms around the NFL will try to reach a fund-raising goal both through their own donations and with the help of fans. According to the website, more than 10 players from 10 teams already are interested in joining the project.
When it comes to the foundation itself, Long wants to make sure he’s more than just a figurehead.
“I want to be involved, I want to hear what’s going on, I want to hear the process,” Long says. “The people that manage my money, they’ve been educating me on a lot of the ways that you have to get ready for tax letters, and all this stuff. It’s kind of all over my head, but I want to hear it all. This is an aspiration for me that’s bigger than just kind of having a website and doing one or two things. I’d love to grow more and more involved as the years go by.”
If this week is any indication, Long is off to a winning start.
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