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Saints Jonathan Vilma, Colts Pierre Garcon, Haitians

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Saints' Jonathan Vilma, Colts' Pierre Garcon use Super Bowl platform to remind others to help Haiti

Pierre Garçon carefully folded the Haitian flag, turning the royal palm and Cap of Liberty into a bandanna.

He tied it around his forehead while dozens of photographers captured the moment, and with that, Super Bowl XLIV's much-celebrated Media Day turned its attention to a disaster.

Garçon, an Indianapolis Colts wide receiver, and Jonathan Vilma, a New Orleans Saints linebacker, are both of Haitian descent. Both speak Creole. Both spent time during their childhood in Miami's Little Haiti community.

Both are expecting to return to Haiti -- as early as April -- to help that country's recovery from recent earthquakes.

``In general, my intentions are to go down there and be productive,'' Vilma said. ``You hear a lot of people just going down and saying, `Oh, look at the devastation,' and just reporting back. Well, that's a given.

``I want to go down there and help, whether it's clearing out the devastation, trying to help build homes, whatever it is. I don't just want to look around and say it's a sad situation. We all know it's a sad situation. What can I do to help that situation?''

The NFL obviously asked the same question in the aftermath of the disaster.

According to NFL director of community relations David Krichavsky, the league and the NFL Players Association made a $1 million donation, split $500,000 apiece, to the Red Cross and Partners in Health.

``We also worked very closely with the Red Cross to promote their text-to-give initiative,'' Krichavsky said via e-mail. ``We filmed a [public service announcement] with two players with Haitian ties [Vilma and Chargers defensive end Jacques Cesaire] that we broadcast during our divisional round and championship playoff games.

``Our promotional work with the Red Cross was very successful. At one point during NFL playoff games, the Red Cross was raising over $700,000 per hour via $10 text donations.''

The PSAs cost $1.5 million in media value for a total NFL and NFLPA donation of $2.5 million.

``These PSAs were a great investment as they helped the Red Cross raise over $8 million in donations,'' Krichavsky said.


None of these figures includes money NFL players have donated on their own. Vilma, who played at the University of Miami and Coral Gables High, designed a T-shirt that celebrates his pro team's success with the phrase ``Department of Domeland Defense'' inscribed on it.

Proceeds from sales are going to Haiti relief efforts, Vilma said.

Garçon's foundation has teamed with the Northwest Haiti Christian Missionary Group to help in rescue and rebuilding. And other players have pitched in also.

``They have been coming to me, asking me how they can help out and what is there to do to help,'' Garçon said. ``A lot of guys have reached out to me.''

Garçon spoke proudly of his background even while admitting he didn't always tell people his parents are Haitian. The earthquakes shook that habit from Garçon.

``There are a lot of bad aspects with being Haitian, so now I'm just trying to do something positive and let people, and especially kids, know we can make it in America and be anybody we want to be,'' Garçon said.

Garçon recalls childhood visits to ``the Zulu market and the chicken place right next door,'' in Little Haiti. But nostalgia and the years have clouded the wide receiver's memory because he actually was talking about the Zubi Market on NW 2nd street.


In Little Haiti on Tuesday there was no obvious sign the Super Bowl is in town. There were no Super Bowl flags decorating the streets. And Jean Rameau, the owner of Little Haiti Hardware & Lumber, couldn't name either team or any player in the game.

Jerry ``da Barber'' (``I can't give you my government name''), who works the first chair at Get Down barbershop, knows about Vilma.

``He's a monster,'' he said.

But as far as being part of the Super Bowl festivities?

``Nah, man,'' he said. ``I used to pay somebody $5 every day to clean up the shop. I can't do that anymore. It's rough over here right now, man.''

The NFL nonetheless will be in the neighborhood on Wednesday. A handful of players, including Dolphins Kendall Langford and Donald Thomas and Miami Springs High product Ricky Jean-Francois, who is of Haitian descent, will visit the Sant La Neighborhood Center.

The NFL players will meet with Miami Edison High football players and bring donated items from corporate partners such as Gatorade and Reebok. General Motors will be sending 30 trucks to Haiti to aid relief efforts.

Some of the trucks, the NFL says, will be staged outside the center before being delivered to Haiti.


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