Larry Fitzgerald helps dig for an irrigation project in Ethiopia. Fitzgerald and former teammate Anquan Boldin are helping areas affected by drought and famine (photo courtesy Larry Fitzgerald).
Globe-trotting is what Larry Fitzgerald is about in the offseason, with annual treks outside the United States his personality drives him to explore and his bank account allows him to do.
Just since the end of the season, the Pro Bowl receiver has visited the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Easter Island, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and Panama.
There are the fun trips – swimming at the Great Barrier Reef, for instance – and the other trips, like the one he and former teammate Anquan Boldin are currently on in Ethiopia, trying to raise awareness of the drought and famine crisis that has affected millions in the region.
"These (trips)," Fitzgerald wrote in during a text message interview Tuesday night, while on his four-day journey, "are much more rewarding."
The idea was Boldin's, Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald had been to Africa a few times before but Boldin never had. Boldin wanted the trip to be "purposeful," Fitzgerald wrote, and Fitzgerald said he didn't think twice about joining when invited.
The two have remained friends despite the trade that sent Boldin to the Ravens in 2010. Both have been active in charitable causes – the two get together yearly to take part in Kurt Warner's flag football tournament, raising big money for Warner's First Things First foundation – and getting together with the international relief organization Oxfam America made sense.
The two will deliver aid, dig wells and – hopefully – generate some talk and raise money to help with the problems.
"By partnering up and doing something together, we could make a bigger impact," Boldin told the Ravens official website. "And this was the perfect opportunity."
Fitzgerald's deepest charitable work has been with breast cancer, because the disease took his mother's life when he was in college. But he has worked in other arenas. He has also joined Starkey Hearing Foundation founder Bill Austin (Fitzgerald's Minnesota neighbor) on overseas trips to provide hearing aids to the needy to India and Rwanda.
But Fitzgerald sees the current crisis in East Africa as crucial, noting that the region is supporting millions of people yet generating not that much more monetarily than the NFL does annually.
"If I see a need I feel it's my civic duty to help and 'Q' has that same feeling," Fitzgerald wrote. "There are so many needs here, basic ones to us back home. Just having clean drinking water or having water at all, (which is) something we never even think about at home. You turn the facet on and you get clean drinkable water. (Here there is) no water for the livestock who plow the fields for vegetables and food. It's an ugly cycle."
Fitzgerald believes (and noted Boldin does too) that because of the blessing they have had to play football, it's incumbent on him to return some to society as a thank you. Money helps, he said, but time devoted is even more precious.
It doesn't mean he won't keep traveling for pleasure, something that he thinks helps him stay grounded and balanced. He was in the middle of a trip in March when his grandmother died; while he flew back for the funeral he coped in part because of traveling.
"I'm a history buff and love to explore the ends of the world," Fitzgerald wrote. "The world educates like no other and it keeps life in perspective for me. I lost my grandmother to cancer and I scuba-dived at the (Great Barrier Reef) in Australia. Never too high, never too low."
One thing that isn't part of Fitzgerald's equation right now is football. The offseason program can't officially begin until April 16 under the new collective bargaining agreement, whereas in years past it would have started this week.
Fitzgerald isn't thinking about it at all.
"Not one bit," Fitzgerald wrote. "Furthest thing from my mind.
"Ball will be there when I get back. I wish I could say the same about everybody I'm seeing here right now."