Former Shippensburg University football star, Joel Gamble made his mark in SU football history, but no memorable catch or touchdown could ever amount to the work he has done off the football field.
Gamble, a 2004 SU graduate, enjoyed a two-year career in the NFL — spending time with the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans. Before his NFL tenure, Gamble suited up for the D.C. Armor of the American Indoor Football Association (AIFA) and played with the Tennessee Valley Vipers, Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz and Bossier-Shreveport BattleWings of arenafootball2 (af2).
Following his football career, Gamble found his true calling — helping others. In 2014, Gamble created The Joel Gamble Foundation which mentors and helps the inner-city youth of Baltimore, Maryland, and provides them with resources for an easier and more direct path to success in their futures.
This year has presented challenges that the foundation never faced before. However, one thing never changed — the desire to lend a hand and continue to make a lasting impact on the community.
Every spring and summer, The Joel Gamble Foundation hosts its annual flag football league, wellness program and football camp. With the ongoing pandemic, these events could not take place in-person and changed to a virtual setting. It was a difficult transition, but new opportunities and experiences arose from the unusual scenario.
One of those unique experiences was the creation of the NFL Skills and Drills program. The program allowed young athletes to talk with NFL players and coaches virtually. The sessions took place every Saturday for eight weeks and even included drills and workouts for kids to participate in from their homes.
“It was really cool to allow kids to meet some of these guys that they may look up to and really get to pick their brains,” Gamble said.
Gamble’s devotion to the community continued past the game of football. With the COVID-19 coronavirus affecting so many in Baltimore, Maryland, Gamble noticed many students did not have the proper technology at home to learn virtually — even internet for that matter. The foundation provided 70 tablets and 37 Chromebooks to kids in Baltimore over the past few months.
“When everything went virtual there were a lot of kids who couldn’t keep up with the learning and that’s not fair,” Gamble said. “So, it was a blessing that we were able to bridge that gap as far as technology is concerned with education.”
Gamble said he missed the face-to-face interactions with the kids that he had in years past. The online conversations did not have the same effect. He could not build the tight-knit relationships he was used to.
“The hardest part about all of this was not having that in-person interaction with the kids,” he said. “It’s hard to build that relationship online and not being able to have the kids outside and give them that social interaction they need. That’s the negative that comes with virtual programming.”
In addition to his foundation, Gamble found another way to bring positivity to light amid the pandemic. Along with fellow NFL alumnus Tavon Mason, the duo pieced together a new comic series called, “The Justice Duo.”
“The Justice Duo” is unlike any other comic book series you have seen before.
Gamble said the idea for the comic book series stemmed from a multitude of items. Gamble and Mason are both children’s book authors and have supported one another in their endeavors to better the Baltimore community. With the comic book series, they wanted to show people that despite all the bad news they may hear or see transpire in Baltimore, there is still a lot of good in today’s world.
“Being from Baltimore, I can say there is not a lot of positive news that comes out of Baltimore,” Gamble said. “We wanted to show that there are some positive Black men in Baltimore that are doing some great things and that we can come together and work together to do something positive.”
Looking back, Gamble recalls growing up as a huge Batman fan. “The Justice Duo” consists of one major component that is missing from the Batman and the Superman comic book worlds — diversity.
“The Justice Duo” provides representation of all different cultures and that is what Gamble is most proud of when he speaks of the series.
“Being in education, I see that there’s not a lot of representation of different cultures in books and so we really wanted to provide that,” he said. “You look and see how big Black Panther was and how kids were able to see a Black superhero. And growing up with Batman, Superman and Ironman, those were all great, but they were missing representation. So, for us to bring that representation to life is huge.”
Representation is not the only predominant issue to be pictured and discussed in the books. Gamble said some of the story lines revolve around bullying and other community issues. They wanted to villainize those issues and put them in the spotlight.
The process of putting the series together has been nothing short of rewarding. And in the midst of a pandemic, it provided Gamble and Mason the extra time to sit down, write and get the creative juices flowing. And those creative juices flowed well — really well.
Gamble said he and Mason had a set routine. One would write, then the other would, and it would be a back-and-forth process. That process worked so nicely that the duo churned out four books over the course of a couple months. They got their illustrator involved too, who has almost completed the illustrations for the first book.
For now, all Gamble and Mason can do is sit and wait. However, each week, they receive illustrations to approve for the book. For Gamble, the coolest part is to see the project come to life.
“To see the illustrator and his creative juices flow with the story is really cool,” Gamble said. “And then to see him illustrate what we’re writing and talking about really gets you excited.”
Gamble continued, “We’re really hoping someone picks this up because we couldn’t be more excited about it. We really want to share this with the kids of the world and have it spread across the United States. We want them to be able to have discussions and conversations about the growing issues within their communities.”