'Can't Read? Then You Can't Play'

NEW YORK - Tiki Barber laid it on the line for a group of youngsters on a recent Saturday: "Reading is the most important skill you can have to play football," the New York Giants star running back told more than 100 youngsters who were attending a two-day football clinic in Wayne, N.J.

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Holding up his football playbook, which every player on the Giants needs to understand and memorize, Barber and a former teammate, tight end Howard Cross, took advantage of a rainy afternoon to emphasize to the group of 8-to-17-year-old budding football stars the importance of reading skills. The youngsters, from Wayne Boys and Girls Club and the New York City Police Athletic League, were attending a summer football camp sponsored by Barber and his twin brother, Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber.

The brothers serve as literacy champions for Verizon. The Literacy Champions program is part of the Verizon Reads literacy awareness campaign. Verizon partners with celebrities in communities nationwide to give literacy a familiar face, bring attention to a critical issue, and raise awareness and funds for the cause of literacy.

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 92 million adults in the U.S have low or very low literacy skills. Other studies have found that more than eight of every 20 adults with low literacy live in poverty, compared with only one in 20 with strong literacy skills. These facts indicate low literacy is both widespread and detrimental.

Most experts also believe the reality, pervasiveness and negative impact of low literacy is not as widely recognized as it should be. In part this is because many people who have low literacy skills have learned to cope while hiding their struggles from friends and family. Shame and fear of ridicule are barriers that block people in need from seeking help. Building understanding of the issues surrounding low literacy is a central goal of Verizon's Literacy Champion program and is a major step toward a solution, as is raising funds to support organizations that combat low literacy with education.

Verizon Communications

A Fortune 10 company, Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 136.6 million access line equivalents and 33.3 million Verizon Wireless customers. Verizon is the third-largest long-distance carrier for U.S. consumers, with 13.2 million long-distance lines, and the company is also the largest directory publisher in the world, as measured by directory titles and circulation. With approximately $67 billion in annual revenues and 227,000 employees, Verizon's global presence extends to the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com.