Vargas: Saints receivers catch big crowd for charity

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD --  New Orleans Saints wide receiver Nick Toon (88)  is brought down by a Dolphin defender after a catch during the first quarter Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- New Orleans Saints wide receiver Nick Toon (88) is brought down by a Dolphin defender after a catch during the first quarter Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

With tidbits concerning Jimmy Graham’s ongoing contract dispute with the Saints flying around incessantly, and preseason training camp less than three weeks away, it was tempting to ignore three New Orleans players’ charity appearance Saturday afternoon.

But in all fairness, giving back to the communities they represent can be as much a part of NFL players’ realities as negotiating lucrative deals and auditioning for jobs at training camps. So I decided to go, and I was reminded of the concrete, tangible good NFL personnel can do when they lend their names and whatever celebrity they’ve accrued to worthy causes.

It quickly became clear that many of the 185 or so people who paid $40 and $50 to attend the nonprofit Le Sanctuary Book Club’s All White Edition Daytime Party fundraiser at the National World War II Museum’s Stage Door Canteen in New Orleans did so because Saints wide receivers Robert Meachem, Joseph Morgan and Nick Toon would be among the hosts.

None of the three players had been at the afternoon dance and dining party for more than five minutes before numerous women and men decked out in white formal wear flocked to them and took turns successfully asking them to pose for photographs snapped with cell phones, cameras and tablet computers. Others shook hands with Meachem, Morgan and Toon; introduced themselves; and struck up conversations.

It was nothing strenuous or extraordinary. Yet next year, several local young women with noble professional goals like curing diseases or assisting the sick will reap the benefits of the crowd some members of New Orleans’ most-followed sports team helped attract to the event.

In 2013, it was Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis helping to host the party. That gathering 12 months ago raised enough money for Le Sanctuary to award $500 on Saturday to eight young women (six graduating high school seniors and two graduate students), scholarships meant to cover the cost of textbooks for the recipients for the upcoming academic year.

Saturday’s scholarship recipients aspired to study biochemistry at Tulane and pursue work in cancer research; planned to major in biology or mass communication at LSU and Xavier University; one hoped to become an obstetrician and gynecologist; others were making the final run to nursing and medical doctorate degrees from Delgado and LSU.

There’s no reason to think Le Sanctuary’s class of scholarship recipients for 2015 will be any less promising or deserving of a kick-start to their higher education. And there’s no way to know whether the fundraiser to benefit them would’ve been less crowded if Meachem, Morgan and Toon hadn’t agreed to be hosts, like Lewis did a year ago.

All Le Sanctuary’s president and founder Angela Young knows for sure is that their presence was a boost.

“Having them on board is a tremendous help, really,” said Young, who also enlisted celebrity stylist Thomasina “GooGoo” Atkins to host. “It ... adds to the (event’s marketability) to say I am going to have ... Saints players here.”

Meachem, Morgan and Toon were the first to avoid playing up the time commitment they made to the book club fundraiser. First of all, Meachem and Morgan are both fathers to two daughters; and Toon grew up with three sisters, so they all acknowledged there’s a soft spot for those Le Sanctuary’s charity bash is meant to help.

They admitted they enjoyed fans’ adulation. As Meachem explained, “It always feels exciting, because one day they’re not going to call your name. One day they’re not going to be happy (to see you) — when you retire, you don’t hear all them cheers anymore.”

The Saints receivers noted that participating in charity causes gave meaning to their NFL careers beyond the money and media attention their profession entails. As Toon said during a break: “I enjoy doing this just as much as I enjoy playing.”

All of which convinced me it was OK to call attention to something like Saints receivers co-hosting a party to raise money to help students pay for their college or grad school textbooks.

No, that won’t ever generate the same drama and contentiousness that high-stakes contract negotiations or a compelling training-camp battle will — but that will directly touch more lives than most juicy stories will.

Quotable

“Jimmy’s my guy. I want what’s best for him. I want what’s best for the team.” — Saints quarterback Drew Brees in an interview ESPN published Monday on how he hopes Graham’s contract dispute is resolved.