Miami Dolphins

With historic voter drive, youth football visits, Dolphins lead by example

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes a selfie with members of the Miami Carol City Senior High School football team after practice Thursday.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill takes a selfie with members of the Miami Carol City Senior High School football team after practice Thursday.

Spring football practices can often be as sleepy as 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night.

They’re not really full speed, there’s no hitting or pads and anyone with a hangnail is held out.

No, the real news this spring hasn’t been who’s been on the field, but rather who’s been on the sidelines.

From race relations to civic engagement, the organization has acted on owner Stephen Ross’ directive to make a positive impact on the Dolphins’ surrounding environment.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase invited hundreds of local youths to watch the team’s practices, and then interact with coaches and players afterward.

“We were trying to pinpoint some ways we could help with anything as far as football in the community,” said Gase, who thought up the program with Jason Jenkins, a Dolphins senior vice president. “We couldn’t put our finger on what it actually was going to be. We started texting I think when [Luther Campbell’s] documentary [came out]. We saw that and we started texting about that, about Liberty City.”

Gase added: “We started kicking some ideas around of what can we do? What can we do to help? What can we do to encourage kids that this is a great sport and there is something about when you’re a part of a team. It’s not all about the individual. There is something about when you have that family feel. We felt like this was something we could do to really help, especially really young kids, but high school kids as well. You realize NFL players do exactly what we have to do every day. I think that’s cool for kids to see.”

Campbell, the rapper and activist, is the co-founder of the Liberty City Optimist Warriors, a youth football team located in one of South Florida’s roughest neighborhoods. The team has had a live-saving impact on countless lives, as documented by his film, “Rivals: The Boom Squad.”

Campbell’s Optimist squad was among the teams invited to take in a Dolphins practice and interact with the team.

“The funniest thing I saw was when some of the really young kids came in and they were almost on the field,” Gase said. “The D-line was doing their drills and they were yelling at the D-line. I was like ‘What are they yelling at them about?’ I loved it. It was so fast how engaged and how our players reacted. I wasn’t sure how smooth it would go. Would kids be paying attention? Would it be a distraction?

Gase added: “We took a shot on it and what we realized was it really energized our practice. You guys weren’t out there, but it was pretty close a lot of the times where that was just one team. Whether it was little kids or high school kids, our players don’t want to disappoint. They want to put on a good show. The competition was outstanding through the whole spring and a lot of it was because they want to look good for the kids that look up to them.”

For the the Dolphins, this isn’t just some one-off, but rather the beginning of something bigger. They hope other franchises follow their lead, and organize similar programs in their respective cities.

The same is true for its voter registration drive, which the organization says is the first of its kind.

The Dolphins are aiming to have every member of its roster registered to vote by September, and have some famous help. Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights icon, actually flagged down Dolphins players in the halls of team headquarters this, handing them the registration forms and making sure they were filled out correctly.

“Of course, the hope is that translates to encouraging more people across our nation to get engaged and to vote because a vote-less people, as dad said, is a powerless people,” King said Thursday. “One of the most important steps that we can take is that short step to the ballot box.”

Some 90 percent of the team had registered by the time minicamp ended Thursday.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley