There still are honest, good men in sports

There still are honest, good men in sports

The news coming from the worlds of sports and business, too often, is negative. Sports pages read like police blotters and today’s headlines are consumed with cheaters and people who, at best, speak half-truths.
I don’t even need to go on about the business world, do I? Turn to any news channel and hear about greed, corruption and mismanagement.
So when someone comes around, someone who lives in both those worlds, but does it with sincerity, class and charity, it’s a breath of fresh air akin to those first warm spring breezes that will soon be upon us.
And that’s Mark Wilf. On the business side of things, he is principal in the Garden Homes Development, a family owned real estate business. On the sports side, he’s the owner of the Minnesota Vikings in the National Football League.
But that barely scratches the surface. His involvement in the Jewish community is unparalleled. There isn’t enough space here to list every board he sits on and every group he’s given money to, but lets just say he is about as plugged in to the United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Federation and other organizations as one guy can be.
“That came from my family, from my parents particularly,” Wilf told me prior to the third annual United Jewish Federation Sports Night Out here in Pittsburgh last Wednesday. “To give back is vitally important. From a personal perspective, I’m very blessed and privileged and giving back, that’s not only important to do, it makes me feel good. That’s the message I want to get out [here] and in general.”
Wilf, by the way, came to the event on his own dime, helping make it even more of a success. The headliner may have been legendary broadcaster Bob Costas, but Wilf’s appearance was no less important. He spoke in front of the 800-plus in attendance — a crowd that helped the event be a rousing success, both in terms of outreach and fundraising — about his commitment to Judaism and to Israel. The son of Holocaust survivors, he touched the audience with the tale of his grandmother fleeing her ghetto in Poland to survive. It’s no small wonder that the Wilf family has been a longtime major supporter of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
“For young people particularly that are not steeped in the history and don’t know what it’s about, the world needs to be educated, not just about what happened in the Holocaust, which is important and must be shared with the world, but the idea of tolerance and understanding one another as human beings,” said Wilf, who also made a large donation to Yeshiva University not long ago (the main campus at the New York school is now called the Wilf Campus). “All those messages that Yad Vashem espouses are critical to our young people.”
So is the example Wilf has set. He realized long ago that it was important to do what he can in the community when he can, and that message can and will filter down right at home, where Wilf has four children, ages 15 down to 6.
“Iit is important to be that example,” Wilf said. “I know there are a lot of dads here [at this event]. One day their kids are going to say, ‘What did you do for the community when it was your turn to step up?’ Yeah, times are challenging, but it’s also doubly important in a challenging time to give back if you can.”
Wilf has worked hard to bring that side of his life to the sports side as well. A life-long Giants fan, he always dreamed of owning an NFL franchise. Unfortunately, Big Blue wasn’t available, but when the Men in Purple were up for sale, Wilf and family jumped at the chance. Once upon a time, they may have harbored some leftover Giant fan feelings, but no more.
“That twinge might have happened early on, but that’s long gone now,” Wilf said. “The Vikings are our team and we’re custodians of a great franchise, and we’re working hard to make it right over there, make it a winner just like the Steelers.”
Wilf is speaking about more than just on the gridiron. He is nothing if not consistent in wanting his ideals to permeate through all facets of his life. It’s important to him for his extension in the sports world – where there are role models, like it or not – to make a positive impact in the community.
“That’s an important message we’re trying to have,” said Wilf, who just completed his fourth season at the helm of the Vikings. “The NFL does a lot of giving back to the community. The Vikings in particular, this past year, all 53 players did at least one community visit.
“It’s a priority we’ve made since day one. Frankly, when we came in and bought the team, we were facing some character issues that we addressed. We expect and we believe we want to win, but to win the right way and to win with character people. That’s something we try to build every day.”

(Jonathan Mayo, The Chronicle’s sports columnist and a staff writer for, can be reached at