Making Boston a Better Place to Play

Courtesy Cindy Pearson

Garin Veris, a former defensive end for the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers, displays his old Stanford football helmet in his office. It’s covered with scrapes and smudges, the product of countless head butts from his days on the line with the Cardinal. These days, he is out to show that the playing field isn’t the only place athletes can use their heads.

As director of recreation for the City of Boston, Veris raises money for youth athletic programs and encourages young people to play sports to help them excel in all aspects of life. He manages a $4 million annual budget, which he supplements with public and private grants. He oversees eight program managers and the employees at the city’s 42 community centers and four stand-alone swimming pools. Local advisory boards help the centers tailor their programming. This can mean more soccer in neighborhoods with many residents from Brazil, for example, and more baseball in neighborhoods with ties to the Dominican Republic. As the city’s head cheerleader for recreation, Veris touts sports as a way to fight obesity, learn discipline and respect, and have fun.

Veris hopes to impress kids as much with his Stanford and Boston College Law School degrees as with his Super Bowl ring (earned in his rookie year playing for the Patriots in 1985). Growing up in Chillicothe, Ohio, he came home from school to do his homework before playing sports.

Yet combining athletics and coursework at Stanford proved a challenge. “That first year was torture on me,” Veris recalls. “You had to really bear down and discipline yourself to get through a football season and also the academic load Stanford offers.” In the pros, he met players who had taken advantage of college opportunities, but he also knew NFL players who couldn’t read.

After seven years, his pro career was halted by knee injuries. Veris went to law school and served a brief stint as a sports agent. He had returned to Stanford to work as a fund raiser when Boston mayor Tom Menino tapped him for his current post.

“I love sports and I love what sports has done for me,” Veris says. “To pass that information on about how important sports and recreation are in kids’ lives and what it can mean later on, that’s what’s exciting to me. I’m an example of it.”