By Sunaya Sapurji
Most of the time when Cam Janssen uses his hands, it's to inflict pain on whatever opponent happens to be tangling with the St. Louis Blues enforcer on the ice.
But on Mondays, Janssen hopes to use his hands – with an assist from Twitter – to type out a 140-word call to action for charity with the Make My Day Mondays (#MMDM) initiative.
"I can reach out to 10,000 people with the snap of a finger," says Janssen. "There's no easier access and Twitter is a great tool – I think it's going to help out a lot of people."
The idea of MMDM – combining his hockey protegés, Twitter and the spirit of charity – was developed by sports agent Scott Norton (@NortonSports) along with his clients such as Janssen (@camjanssen55) and Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown (@DustinBrown23) who jointed the social network in August. The premise is simple – donate your time or money – to any individual or cause that is important to you.
"The whole idea of it is to help where you can help," says Brown. "It's not really about giving money. A lot of times for me it's really as simple as giving your time to somebody whether it's going to (visit) the hospital or helping someone out with a spare tire, it's stuff like that that can go a long way in helping someone through their day or helping someone who might be in a much worse situation than you could ever imagine."
Janssen has the biggest following on Twitter among Norton's clients with 7,700 followers and counting. Last month he tweeted about going to an Indian restaurant in downtown St. Louis and giving his bag of leftovers to a homeless man. Afraid the man might not like Indian food, Janssen slipped $20 into the bag just in case.
"He seemed pretty happy just to get the leftovers," says the winger. "But I felt good after doing that and I think if we keep pushing this (spirit of charity) it could blow up into something big."
In addition to the MMDM initiative, Janssen is also helping raise money and awareness for Fisher House – a non-profit organization that helps support and house families of wounded U.S. war veterans while they receive treatment at nearby Veterans Administration medical centres. The charity is close to Janssen's heart as a number of his family and friends have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military.
"It's for families that can't afford it when their kids – their sons or daughters – come back [injured], they put them up in this really nice house," says Janssen, who will help open the facility in his native St. Louis later this month.
For Brown, a graduate of the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm, the idea of mining social media for charity was a natural fit. After one of his first tweets mentioned the new playground he was building with KaBOOM! – a not for profit dedicated to giving children places to play – he was inundated by requests from fans wondering how they could help and get involved.
"From a charity standpoint it's great because it's a really good avenue to reach out to those who want to volunteer," says Brown of Twitter. He's currently holding a 10-day trivia contest on Twitter to have the lucky winners come out Sept. 29 to help build a new playground in Carson, Calif., alongside him and the rest of the Kings.
Janssen also enjoys the more personal and instant relationship social media sites like Twitter and Facebook allow him to have with fans all around the world – whether they like him or not.
"Some of the stuff you have to ignore because not everyone will agree with you," says Janssen, who was a fan favourite when he played for Windsor and Guelph in the OHL. "But they're still following you and still interested in what you do. Some of the questions I'll answer back, obviously I can't answer every one of them, but I'll go through them and try to reach back as much as I can.
"They don't need to know my extreme personal life – thank god – but I can keep them updated with my hockey life and what's going on so that's pretty cool."
And, of course, because whatever is posted is disseminated over the internet in an instant, there are drawbacks for some pro athletes as to what they can or can't say in the public sphere as Janssen learned the hard way. He's already been in hot water over a tweet he posted last month in which he challenged Dallas Stars pugilist Krys Barch (@KrysBarch) to a fight – a challenge that Barch, who is also a Norton client, readily accepted.
"I don't know why people are so ecstatic over this thing… what's our role? We both fight, that's our job," says Janssen. "I'm not going to fight Krys Barch because I put it on Twitter. No. I'm going to fight Krys Barch because either he's doing something that I need to respond to or I'm doing something he needs to respond to – or we're not going to fight at all and the game's probably tied the whole time so we're going to play hockey. But that isn't going to change one iota of my decision making.
"You have to watch what you say, I mean if you're pissed off after a game you definitely don't want to get on that and start blowing up."
Brown agrees, noting that his feed will be far more conservative when it comes to discussing both on- and off-ice issues. Still, both players are happy to have found a way to use Twitter to help others around them and perhaps start a snowball effect of goodwill in cyberspace which will carry over in to everyday life – and not just on Mondays.
"Make My Day Mondays, that's just the name for the idea, but ultimately it's to help where you can help," says Brown. "It could (just as easily) be Make My Day Any Day."
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski