We ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ when they do something spectacular on our TV screens. We quickly take to social media to criticize when they screw up, and are too often unnecessarily cruel while doing it.
What we too often overlook is that NFL players, or professional athletes in general, are just people. Like you and me. They have struggles in their daily lives. Like you and me. They have family members who have struggles with illness or other issues. Like you and me. Many of them come from difficult backgrounds, and have experienced struggles that those of us who — fortunately — had a different experience can’t begin to understand.
While the Reuben Foster’s of the world make headlines for all the wrong reasons, many of these players are quietly using the notoriety being in the NFL has brought them to give back, to help others, to try to make the world we live in a better place.
They don’t ask for headlines for that, and usually don’t get them.
This weekend, that’s different. In Week 13, players around the league will get to wear customized cleats to showcase causes they care about as part of the NFL’s ‘My Cause My Cleats’ initiative, which is now in its third year.
Giants’ backup center John Greco will be supporting pancreatic cancer awareness, something he says has impacted his life.
“I’ve seen guys whether it’s anti-bullying or drug awareness or drunk driving … each person in here and really everybody across the country, throughout the world has been affected in some way by something,” Greco said. “When you have guys that are in the spotlight, you have so many people following certain athletes it’s awesome that you can showcase and give credit to people that are working so hard for a topic.”
Russell Shepard: “Save one person”
Wide receiver Russell Shepard will be wearing cleats to support mental health awareness.
“I have a brother that struggles with mental health and it’s kind of affected his life at this point, He’s been in and out of prison, had a hard time communicating,” Shepard said.
“Mental health is something that kind of runs in my family, so that’s huge for me. Being a kid from the urban city, being a kid that’s had to go through certain things to get where I’m at. I’m one of the few kids that made it from where I’m from and I’m just happy to be able to help and expose some of the problems that I had growing up.”
The Shepard Family Foundation, based in Shepard’s hometown of Houston, Tx., focuses on “different things we feel that are depriving or hurting the urban community,” Shepard said. At-risk children and families, mental health awareness and more are things the foundation, which you can learn about here, focuses on.
“You don’t have to save the world, but if you save one person it’s good enough,” Shepard said. “I just want to be able to help and contribute and do my part in this world.”
Jamon Brown: “We live in our bubbles”
Growing up in Louisville, Ky., Brown’s family struggled financially and faced the threat of homelessness. It made a lasting impact on the way the Giants’ guard, acquired via waivers just a few weeks ago, has lived his life.
“I experienced it coming up financially. My mom hit some tough times,” Brown said. “My goal if I made it to the league was to impact somebody that had maybe encountered some of the things that I went through. What can I do to help them get out of that?”
Brown said a person who needs help could be close to you, if you are only tuned in enough to see it.
“A lot of times we live in our bubbles. We don’t really look left, look right for the person that could be right next to you struggling with something and maybe you could help,” he said.
“If I’ve got the ability to help somebody that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Brown established the Jamon Brown Foundation in Louisville two years ago with the primary goal of fighting homelessness, then brought it to Los Angeles. He is planning to bring it to the New York/New Jersey area once he gets “planted.”
“What I wanted to do with the Jamon Brown Foundation is just bring awareness and alert people to these organization that are doing great work already because a lot of times people just don’t know about them,” Brown said. “Everywhere I go, it’s going.”
Brown is thankful for the opportunity presented by ‘My Cause My Cleats’ even though he may not actually have custom cleats on Sunday because of his move from the Rams to the Giants.
“When you look at the National Football League that’s one of the biggest platforms out there, right? Thanks to the NFL they allow us as player to voice our opinions and some of the things that inspire us in our cleats,” he said.
“It allows me to bring awareness to what I’m trying to do, the impact I’m trying to make not only on the football field but off the football field.”
Nate Solder’s story
During a Wednesday tour of the locker room to ask players about their participation in “My Cause My Cleats” I did not get a chance to speak with offensive tackle Nate Solder, who is going global with his efforts to help needy children. The video below, though, tells his story.
More ‘My Cause My Cleats’
Here is Saquon Barkley’s cause:
Here are all the various cleats designed for Giants players:
- Here is more on the causes players around the league are championing this weekend.
There are a number of Giants doing solid charitable work. Check out their foundations to learn more. Below, the list of players participating on Sunday.
Giants take part in ‘My Cause My Cleats’
|Alex Tanney||Multiple Sclerosis Awareness (Tackle MS with Alex Tanney)|
|Riley Dixon||Rare Disease Awareness (Uplifting Athletes)|
|Eli Manning||Pediatric Cancer Awareness (Walter&Connie Payton Foundation/Tackle Kids Cancer|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||Homelessness/Poverty/Addiction/Abuse (The Dream Center, L.A.)|
|Kyle Lauletta||Youth Development (The Boys and Girls Club of Clifton, N.J.)|
|Janoris Jenkins||Community Development (Jackrabbit Foundation)|
|Landon Collins||Rebuilding Homes from Disasters - Natural Disaster Relief|
|Wayne Gallman||Single Parent Support Services (The Single Parent Foundation)|
|B.W. Webb||Youth Development (Spyda Lockdown Academy) & Social Justice (Bridge Over Newport News, VA)|
|Saquon Barkley||22Q - Deletion/DiGeorge Syndrome|
|Antonio Hamilton||Mental Health Awareness; Lupus Awareness (Lupus Foundation of America)|
|Michael Thomas||Social Justice & Youth Education (Michael Thomas Dreambuilders Foundation)|
|Grant Haley||Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis Awareness (American Liver Foundation)|
|Curtis Riley||Underprivileged Youth (Ha Ha’s HERO Foundation)|
|Zak DeOssie||Low-Income Students (America Needs You)|
|Alec Ogletree||Autism Awareness, Autism Speaks|
|Connor Barwin||Urban Revitalization & Youth Development (Make The World Better Foundation)|
|Olivier Vernon||Coats Disease Awareness (Jack McGovern Coats Disease Foundation)|
|Nate Stupar||Underprivileged Youth (The Stage of Hope Foundation)|
|Tae Davis||Youth Development (YMCA, YCAP Chattanooga)|
|Lorenzo Carter||Music Education (VH1 Save the Music Foundation|
|Chad Wheeler||Mental Health Awareness (Into the Light)|
|Kerry Wynn||Youth Mentoring & Development (Kerry Wynn Why Not Me Foundation)|
|John Greco||Pancreatic Cancer Awareness (The Lustgarten Pancreatic Cancer Foundation|
|Nate Solder||International Youth Outreach (Compassion International)|
|Jamon Brown||At-Risk Youth (J. Brown Foundation)|
|Russell Shepard||Mental Health Awareness (The Shepard Family Foundation)|
|Rhett Ellison||Homelessness (Project KIND)|
|Sterling Shepard||Brain Health & Alzheimer’s Awareness (American Heart Association)|
|Evan Engram||Special Needs Support (Special Olympics New Jersey)|
|Garrett Dickerson||Breast Cancer Awareness (Breast Cancer Research Foundation)|
|R.J. McIntosh||Youth Engagement (RJ McIntosh Foundation)|
|John Jenkins||Diabetes Awareness (American Diabetes Association|
|B.J. Goodson||Breast Cancer Awareness (Breast Cancer Research Foundation)|
|Dalvin Tomlinson||Diabetes Awareness (American Diabetes Association)|
|B.J. Hill||Community Services (Kingdom Citizens Outreach Ministries)|
|Kareem Martin||Diabetes Awareness (American Diabetes Association)|
|Josh Mauro||Military Appreciation (Wounded Warrior Project)|