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Armour: See How NFL’s Cleats Week Helps Charities

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Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Sammie Coates’ cleats will highlight the work done by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital fighting childhood cancer. Photo: steelers.com

There’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. Not when it comes to the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats.”

As the league assesses the first-time program, which last weekend gave a platform to more than 60 charitable causes, here’s a suggestion: Make it a regular thing. Let the players wear the personalized – and deeply personal – cleats every week.

The potential to make a difference far outweighs both the potential for oversaturation and the NFL’s obsession with uniformity.

“For a rare disease like Duchenne, it’s huge,” said Debra Miller, the co-founder and president of CureDuchenne, which saw donations for its end-of-year campaign rise after Clay Matthews promoted the organization with his cleats and an essay on The Players’ Tribune.

“There are so many good causes … and so many worthy causes. But many of the diseases that get the attention through mass media are the big diseases,” Miller added. “These smaller diseases that are devastating, and often affect children, don’t get the attention.”

The donations, as well as money raised when Matthews’ cleats are auctioned off, will help researchers who know how to cure Duchenne but lack the resources to do it. This is no small thing given that Duchenne, a form of muscular dystrophy that predominantly affects boys, is usually fatal by age 30.

“I realize how strict (the NFL is) with what they do,” Miller said. “I’m just ecstatic that they went out beyond just the major disease groups to do good.”

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram's cleats represent the Mark Ingram Foundation, which serves children with incarcerated parents. Photo: twitter
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram’s cleats represent the Mark Ingram Foundation, which serves children with incarcerated parents. Photo: twitter

Too often, NFL players – all athletes, really – only get attention for what they do off the field when it’s something bad. DUIs, drug arrests, domestic violence.

But that’s just a small fraction of the population. Most players are decent citizens, and many recognize their status as professional athletes gives them the opportunity to make a difference in their communities.

Look no further than this week’s nominations for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Most teams could have submitted four or five names from their 53-man rosters. Sample other companies and I wonder if the percentage would be that high.

The “My Cause My Cleats” program was born out of Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis’ impassioned call for his fellow players to do more to make a difference, said Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s senior vice president of social responsibility. It was up to players if they wanted to participate and, if so, what organization or cause they wanted to promote.

The only restriction, Isaacson said, was that it had to be tied to a federally recognized charitable organization.

More than 500 players took part and, with the exception of Dorial Green-Beckhamand his faux “Yeezy Foundation,” their messages were legitimate, sincere and, more often than not, deeply personal.

Hodgkin’s survivor Eric Berry’s cleats were purple, the color associated with the cancer he beat two years ago. Dak Prescott’s had “MOM” emblazoned on the side, a heartbreaking reminder of why he was promoting colon cancer awareness. Khalil Mack had “Auntie Glo” on his cleats supporting the Lupus Foundation of America.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott's are a tribute to his deceased mother, who died from colon cancer. They were made to support colon cancer prevention efforts. Photo: SportsNet.ca
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s are a tribute to his deceased mother, who died from colon cancer. They were made to support colon cancer prevention efforts. Photo: SportsNet.ca

Alzheimer’s, human trafficking, mental health, diabetes, local children’s hospitals, art education for disadvantaged kids – all of these causes and more got a turn in the spotlight that they never could have managed on their own.

Even with its sagging ratings, the NFL is still the biggest game around.

“If the NFL were to give more air time to this program, I think we’d be raising more impressions, more hits and more awareness,” said Sandra Raymond, CEO of the Lupus Foundation, which saw its Facebook impressions jump to over 300,000, about 10 times more than a normal day.

“We’re very grateful to the NFL for this program, and we’d like to see it expand.”

The NFL is concerned that the players wearing the cleats on a regular basis would lessen their impact, Isaacson said. But the Chicago Bears have been wearing GSH patches for 30-plus years now and people still talk about George Halas.

And if the NFL is worried about players violating uniform edicts that rival those at Catholic schools, guys are already wearing different cleats depending upon their endorsement deals.

The NFL is always talking about the great character of its players, guys who make an impact on and off the field.

Let them show it.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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