Wilson & Autism Speaks Team Up to "Love the Moment" in Support of Autism Awareness
By: Marty Winkler
Originally Posted: 4/18/2019
You come across it every day, though you may have never noticed. Odds are it touches one of your coworkers, either past or present. Likely one of your neighbors too. But you would never see it. And they may never talk about it.
Seventy million people around the globe are touched by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), so there's a good chance you've met someone on the spectrum. But how many of us really know what autism is and the various ways it impacts so many people and their families?
The truth is, autism impacts more people in the world now than at any time before – 70 million people globally. It's a truth that Michael Markovich, Global Commercial Director at Wilson Sporting Goods, admits he didn't know much about until the subject hit close to home.
"One of the buyers we work with mentioned his son happens to have autism," remembers Markovich. "And as I thought through it, I realized we as a company talk to hundreds of people whose families are directly affected by autism."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This marks a 15 percent increase from a previous study conducted in 2012.
Today, 1 in 151 girls is likely to be identified as being on the spectrum, and boys are four times more likely at 1 in 37. Even conservative estimates show that over the next 10 years, an estimated 500,000 teenagers will enter adulthood and age out of school-based autism services.
As Markovich continued his research, he not only realized how many people autism affects, but how many people he knew were touched by autism in one way or another.
"I learned that a few people we have here at Wilson have sons with autism," says Markovich. "The autism spectrum is getting larger, not smaller."
That's when Markovich knew he wanted to do something. So he put in a call to Autism Speaks.
Founded in 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, Autism Speaks works to increase global awareness and understanding of people with autism, as well as to advance research into causes of autism and personalized treatments.
"I thought maybe we would have some good volume in our voices together," says Markovich as he recalls placing that first call to Autism Speaks. Together with Autism Speaks Director of Corporate Development Peter Morton, Markovich helped forge a partnership that would not only support Autism Speaks in its mission to promote solutions for the needs of individuals with autism and their families, but also encourage acceptance and inclusion for all.
It was this thought that lead to the creation of Wilson's Love The Moment line of baseball products.
"One word that kept coming up in our meetings was love," remembers Markovich. "Love is something the autism community is really trying to foster. And for baseball, the kids playing travel ball and playing the game every day, there's a love for the game and a lot of bonding that takes place off the field. That's something we wanted to connect with."
Currently, the Love The Moment (LTM) line includes three different Louisville Slugger bats and two Wilson baseball gloves, including the A2000, which continues to be Wilson's most popular glove among Major League Baseball players. Each product carries the LTM heart logo, as well as special tags that educate the player about autism. The products also feature a special shade of blue, a nod to Autism Speaks' signature "Light It Up Blue" campaign, which takes place every April during World Autism Month.
Historically, baseball has played a special role within the autism community. Former MLB player Jim Eisenreich was forced into temporary retirement due to involuntary tics caused by Tourette's syndrome. While he was able to resume his career, which included winning the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins, Eisenreich was later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
Last year, the Kansas City Royals made history when they signed outfielder Tarik El-Abour to a minor league contract. According to Royals and MLB officials, El-Abour is believed to be the first professional ballplayer diagnosed with autism.
In recent years, MLB and its 30 clubs have worked with Autism Speaks to host Autism Awareness games across the league, and the hope is for teams to engage with the Love The Moment products to bring more visibility to the campaign's message.
"We have 18 individual club relationships throughout Major League Baseball that will be activating during this season," says Morton. "We see this as just the first step of many of a fruitful partnership. The goal is that after a successful first year, Wilson and its other partners will see the impact they're making on the autism community and join us for many years to come. Next year, I hope we are talking about other sports and professional leagues that have signed on as well."
The Love The Moment baseball line releases on April 24th on BaseballExpress.com. For every Love The Moment product sold, Baseball Express will make a monetary donation to Autism Speaks.