Actually, they can't give it away at all.
The wide receivers are under strict orders to avoid handouts. Andrew Blejwas, an official with the nonprofit international relief and development organization Oxfam America, is coordinating this late-March trip for the two NFL players and their significant others, and he insists they focus on the task
Ethiopia, a country of 93.8 million people, has a per capita annual GDP of $1,100 (compared with $48,100 in the U.S.), but Blejwas is adamant that Boldin and Fitzgerald refrain from slipping anyone cash. "You can't just give money to random people," he says. "It could change the social dynamic." He explains to the NFL stars that even a gift of 500 birr (about $30) could cause serious disruption in this community. If a few villagers were suddenly to become "rich," many neighbors could resent their good fortune, and some might shun them if not given a share of the windfall.
Last summer, after seeing news reports about Ethiopia's economic and humanitarian crisis, Boldin decided he needed to get involved. "I wasn't put on this earth just to play football," the Ravens receiver says. He eventually learned about Oxfam America and liked its approach, which emphasizes support for grassroots organizations. But Boldin didn't want to just write a check; he wanted to see for himself what was happening on the ground and raise awareness for the group. He asked Fitzgerald, his former teammate in Arizona, to join him, in part because he knew the good-natured Cardinal would endure the three-day scramble of short-hop flights and spine-jarring SUV rides to visit work sites and aid recipients. "I try to help with whatever cause I can," Fitzgerald says. "But if it's Q asking, I try harder."
Although he is arguably the best wide receiver of his generation, Fitzgerald routinely defers to Boldin, who may be the toughest. (Boldin's face was broken in a much-YouTubed 2008 helmet-to-helmet collision with the
They've been close since 2004, when Boldin, in his second season, mentored Fitzgerald, the third overall pick in that year's draft. Their friendship has survived Boldin's 2010 trade to the Ravens, not to mention polar-opposite personalities. Fitzgerald, 28, is everyone's best friend -- charming,
Boldin often rides Fitzgerald for his naïveté and easy path to NFL stardom. Fitzgerald, the son of a Minneapolis sports writer, was a Vikings ball boy. Boldin, by contrast, grew up in Pahokee, Fla., a hole-in-the-swamp town known equally for the surprisingly large number of pro athletes it has produced and its otherwise poor career prospects. When Boldin was a child, his grandfather made him work Saturdays at a local sugarcane processor while repeatedly warning him, "This is what you don't want to be doing for the rest of your life."
Back in Tigray, knowing that he has more money than he ever imagined as a kid in Pahokee, Boldin continues to be frustrated with his inability to give cash directly to the villagers. "You just want to do something right now," he says.
Soon after, while visiting an agricultural school supported by Oxfam America, Boldin and Fitzgerald hear about a livestock sale under way just a short walk down the road. Sensing a path around the no-handout rule, Boldin asks Blejwas if he's allowed to buy the villagers a cow. The Oxfam rep consults with colleagues before giving the okay, adding that such a gift shows great respect for the community. Fitzgerald chimes in that he'll spring for a heifer as well, and less than an hour later, the two players are each proud owners of Ethiopian milking cows. As they leave the corral, each man wielding a stick to guide his $200 purchase, Fitzgerald assesses their bovine talent. "Nice looking animal you got there, Q," he says to his friend, who smirks suspiciously. "But I'll bet you right now mine produces more milk."
Boldin shakes his head but says nothing as they begin the walk back to the agricultural school.