by Joanne Zuhl, Staff writer
Joey Harrington is a guy who happens to play football; not a football player. There’s a difference. Football doesn’t define him, he says, it was a career, it afforded him a nice living, but it is not who he is.
Who he is is much more than the son of University of Oregon football stars, where he himself had three years as the celebrated quarterback of the Ducks. He is far beyond the hype of his 2001 candidacy for the Heisman Trophy. And today he is so much more than the NFL could ever give, or take away.
Harrington is settling back home in Portland with his wife, Emily, and their new son Jack. It has always been home for him and his family throughout his career. Portland is the base for the Joey Harrington Foundation, established with his signing bonus with the Detroit Lions, with whom he played for four seasons. In recent years, however, his career was tethered to one struggling team after the next — to the Miami Dolphins, the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.
But Harrington’s having a much bigger impact in Portland than he did throwing a ball in any of those others towns. The Joey Harrington Foundation supports numerous youth-focused groups in Portland, including the Shriners and the Boys and Girls Club, where he serves on the board of directors. He has joined the board of SMART (Start Making A Reader Today), and he’s working with Girls Inc. on their “Power of the Purse” campaign.
Harrington is not just the name behind the check. In his opinion, he was given a blessing with his career, despite its ups and downs, and he wants to give back. In addition to his other work, he both supports financially and volunteers at the Blanchet House, which provides meals for people experiencing homelessness, and on Jan 30, he did the Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge.
Joanne Zuhl: Did you actually do the plunge?
Joey Harrington: Oh God. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.
J.Z.: A lot of people would have cut the check and gone home.
J.H.: Hey — you jump in the water. If you’re going to do it, you got do it all the way. You know, to be in the position I’m in today, I’ve been supported by countless people. I’ve been supported by the community of the state of Oregon, by the city of Portland. These are people who have been wonderful to me. And when I’ve come back in the off-season in years past, I’ve had a small bit of time. I used to do a fundraiser concert for Shriners Hospital, (Harrington is an accomplished jazz pianist) but I wasn’t around enough to be involved like I wanted to give back, to say thank you.
J.Z.: And now?
J.H.: It’s great! It gives me the opportunity to completely jump into it. And while my NFL career didn’t necessarily turn out as storybook as my college career, I’m still able to help certain organizations in the city and the state, that other people may not be able to. It’s funny to me how people respond to professional athletes in general, but the reality is it opens doors. Football has never been a destination to me. Football has been a way to open a door to something else I wanted to do.
By using the contacts that I’ve made through playing football, I’m able to help out the people who have helped me get to this position.
J.Z.: You’re involved with and support several charitable endeavors here in Portland, including the Blanchet House, where I understand you’ve volunteered on several occasions. Some people write the check and that’s it. Was there an event or moment in your life that compelled you to get involved?
J.H.: We made a sizable contribution to the new building project simply because the Blanchet House has been something that’s been close to my family and Emily’s family. My grandfather was one of the members of the original group that started the Blanchet House. And Emily had volunteered for years before we met. She was the one who actually brought me down there to volunteer for the first time, maybe five years ago.
What I really liked about the Blanchet, is that there were no requirements. It wasn’t like you had to sit and listen to someone speak first, it was simply come in and eat. And whether you live on the streets and need it for every single meal, or whether you just need it because the money runs tight at the end of the month, it’s an open door. You asked if there was a moment. I don’t think that there was one moment, but it’s something that my mom and dad really emphasized when we were younger; that it doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a mailman, a plumber, or someone who is out of a job, or someone who is doing drugs on a street corner, everybody deserves respect. And so, having been raised with that as a model, it’s tough to see people turn their back. It’s tough to see people treat others like they’re not good enough, or their time is too valuable for them, or that they are somehow less. And that’s something that has always resonated with Emily and me. Continue reading