Decades before The Bachelor, he was the bachelor. There was “the guarantee,” the full-length fur coats, the procession of the most beautiful and famous women in the world, and a transcendence that ordained Joe Namath as the very first sex symbol of sports. He became every bit as iconic and identifiable to the city of New York, and perhaps the planet, as the Big Apple landmark from which his nickname was born. He was, is and forever shall be “Broadway Joe” Namath. And these days, he’s attempting to tackle goals much greater than his Super Bowl trophies.
In his 30-plus years of involvement with numerous charities, Namath has raised millions of dollars for a bevy of most-deserving causes. “I’ve tried to help somehow for most of my life. I remember collecting dimes as a kid for March of Dimes. Mom and Dad tried to help out. It comes from them,” says Namath, who has raised an estimated $33 million over the past 20 years for that same children’s charity. In 2017, he launched The Joe Namath Foundation, a private 501 (c)(3), not only to benefit children’s charities, but also to aide in neurological education and research.
Recent findings on the link between concussions, traumatic brain injuries and neurological damage also became his call to action: As a result, he created the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center at Jupiter Medical Center. “Teammates and friends are suffering. The masses aren’t aware of just how many are suffering. We began hyperbaric treatments in 2012, and I know it’s a major help. We’re trying to show the FDA the data to approve this method. Insurance doesn’t cover it. In many countries, like Japan, hyperbaric chambers are normal therapy. We need the FDA to help,” says Namath.
Every bit as iconic and recognizable today as he was while winning Super Bowl 3 in January 1969, some six months before man would even set foot on the moon, Namath remains a man of the people. “Everywhere I go, there are good vibes. I run into people with smiles every day,” says Namath, who admits to having been star-struck himself on several occasions. “Oh, man: the actor Pat O’Brien who played in Knute Rockne [All American]; Rocky Marciano; meeting Arnold Palmer in Pittsburgh in 1965; Perry Como; Gregory Peck; Bob Hope. I would be [star-struck] with Bruce Springsteen, I’m sure, and I hope I continue to always feel that way,” says Namath.
Summer plans include travel back to Pennsylvania to visit family, and New York for time with friends and fundraising, but Namath prefers being in the Tequesta-Jupiter area that he’s called home for three decades. “It’s the fresh air year-round, the colors, the greens and the blues, and the flowers. I love the summer breeze. It suits me,” Namath says, adding, “I don’t put exactly where out there, but there are seven or eight great spots where we love to eat from here down to the Gardens. I’m happy to keep exactly where a secret.”
As a father, grandfather, and eternal global icon of sports and celebrity, Namath is a man who somehow manages to maintain proper perspective on life. “I’m thankful for good health; I’m thankful for family. It’s been a joy. You live and you learn. Life’s been good to me,” he says, smiling. “It’s a team effort, and all about who you share it with.”
There are colorful figures in sports, and then there are colorful figures in sports. Golf legend Michelle McGann embraces both types while she works continually to brighten the lives of millions of others like herself who live each day with the challenges of Type 1 diabetes.
There are the trademark hats, the brightest and boldest of her signature outfit colors splashed against the greenest of fairways the world over and that unmistakable megawatt smile, but it is her remarkable talent for the game that has made McGann among the most popular players and personalities in women’s golf for more than 30 years.
The North Palm Beach resident began playing golf at the age of 7; became a three-time Florida State junior champion; and in 1987 not only won the USGA Junior Girls championship, but managed to be named AJGA Rolex Junior Player of the Year, Golf Amateur Player of the Year and Golf Digest Amateur of the Year. And she accomplished all of it in spite of her Type 1 diabetes diagnosis at 13.
McGann is one of the estimated 1.25 million Americans living with the disease, including more than 200,000 youth under the age of 20. Her diagnosis shifted her purpose in life away from golf to creating awareness of Type 1 diabetes. The Michelle McGann Fund was created to make a difference here and now. “The disease is different for kids,” McGann says. “We’re able to send these kids to camp. We’ve been able to hire experts and educate their parents. We’ve been able to bring educators into the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital to introduce and educate on the newest insulin pump—a game-changer for these kids. We just try to reach out to as many people as we can. The fund works to further juvenile diabetes management in the areas of awareness, education and support while promoting a healthy lifestyle.”
Summer means McGann is once again spanning the globe competing on the LPGA Legends Tour, which also allows her and her husband, Jonathan Satter, principal and managing director of U.S. operations for Avison Young, a global commercial real estate firm, the opportunity to travel and see family in the process. “At this stage of my career, I get to explore, and it’s neat to include family while I’m still playing. The U.S. Senior LPGA Championship is in French Lick, Ind., so I’ll get to visit with my in-laws on vacation. The family convenes—I’ll see my two nieces. That’s one of the benefits of playing this game, and I married into a really nice family,” McGann says.
Since qualifying for the LPGA on her very first attempt in 1989, McGann has been a member of the Sondheim team twice and has amassed a total of nine professional wins on tour. She remains immensely grateful for this life the game has provided her. “We are very fortunate. With my career, I get to be outside every day. There are no bad days, unless it’s raining. I feel so lucky to have been given this talent and to be able to meet so many people, and to make a difference, especially with kids,” she says.
As for summer in the Palm Beaches, the golfer’s disposition remains as bright as her signature outfits. “It’s beautiful: We have the ocean breeze, and the traffic slows down tremendously; restaurants are more accessible. It’s heaven on earth,” says McGann, who adds that some of their favorite dining spots include “the Reef Grill because they’re always so great to us; C.R. Chicks because we love to keep it simple; and Barcello because they support my charity. They support my cause,” she says, beaming with her winning smile.
They called him “The Phenomenon”—and they weren’t wrong. Rick Ankiel’s baseball ascension from being named USA TODAY’s high school player of the year in 1997 to the Major Leagues was both meteoric and historic. But in an instant, it was all over—or so it seemed. On a fateful October 2000 afternoon during the National League Division playoffs, the 21-year-old rising star, whom sportswriters were calling “the next Sandy Koufax,” suddenly and inexplicably found himself unable to throw a strike—or anywhere near the catcher, for that matter. Millions of people around the world watched this drama unfold live as it happened, wild pitch after wild pitch. “Colors faded. A sweat rose, but I was chilled. My mouth ached for water. I couldn’t feel my hands,” Ankiel chronicled with co-author Tim Brown in his 2017 autobiography and The New York Times best-seller, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life. What followed over the course of the next 13 years would become a remarkable story of reinvention and redemption the likes of which baseball has never seen before. Refusing to simply quit the game he so loved, Ankiel instead accepted demotion after demotion before ultimately finding himself where most players start, not finish: the rookie leagues. After he climbed all the way back to the Major Leagues again as a pitcher for the Cardinals in 2004, it was spring training of 2005 that he decided to move on and, instead, reinvent himself as a power-hitting outfielder. Symbolically homering in his very first game back, he later joined Babe Ruth as the only player in MLB history to win at least 10 games as a starting pitcher, and also hit at least 50 home runs as a position player. In fact, Babe Ruth and Ankiel remain the only players in Major League Baseball history to ever be the starting pitcher of a post-season game and also hit a post-season home run as a position player. Hollywood screenwriters are reaching out in hopes of developing Ankiel’s legendary story for a major motion picture based on his life and unique career in baseball.
These days, Ankiel prefers to remain close to his home in Jupiter, where life is all about his wife, Lory (a former Miami Dolphins’ cheerleader-turned-entrepreneur and creator of The Athletes Guide, a network of resources, websites and an app, for professional athletes and their families,) and being a full-time dad to their gorgeous young sons, Declan and Ryker. Ankiel is known to occasionally pack up the family and cruise over to the Bahamas in their Venture center console boat. “It’s fun in the summer to have the kids here all day and not in school. These are outdoor boys. It’s always the beach, fishing, outdoor sports and occasionally a little putt-putt golf at Lighthouse Cove here in Jupiter.”
Remaining close to home continues to be the Ankiel theme when it comes to dining, as well. “We love Evo, Lynora’s and U-Tiki [Beach],” Ankiel says. “Sometimes, when I’m feeling fancy, we’ll head to Buccan in Palm Beach.”
Ankiel remains an inspirational and beloved sports figure to the city of St. Louis, Mo., a real-life “Rocky” of sorts. He’s the comeback kid, the people’s champion. The respect and admiration are mutual. “It’s the best baseball city in America. I spent the majority of my career there. Cardinal Nation and the people of St. Louis treat me like a Hall of Famer. I never forget that,” says Ankiel, who currently spends 10 days a month in the city during baseball season as a St. Louis Cardinals’ studio analyst on FOX Sports Midwest television.
As a man forced by fate to learn about patience, perseverance and accountability the hard way, one would have to be foolish to ever bet against Rick Ankiel.
Written by Josh Cohen, host of “Josh Cohen & The HomeTeam,” weekdays 3-5pm on ESPN 106.3FM and the ESPN app
Styling by Zlata Kotmina | Hair and Makeup by Bri Soffa | Shot on location at The Brazilian Court Hotel and Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa