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My Cause, My Cleats: Players’ Stories

From a shelter for homeless youth to adoption, the Special Olympics and childhood cancer care, here are some of the causes NFL players will be supporting on Sunday

This weekend, NFL players will be wearing specially designed cleats to promote causes close to them. Here are a few of their stories:

Chris Carson, Seahawks running back

Cause: ROOTS, a shelter in Seattle for young adults experiencing homelessness

“ROOTS helps out people who don’t have a place to live. They are a genuine group that truly cares about helping get young people off the streets. They open their doors up every night at 8:30 p.m., and anybody who needs a place to stay, they offer that for them, cook them meals. I really appreciate what they do, because there are a lot of people out there, especially in Seattle, who don’t have homes.”

“My family was homeless for a while after our house burned down in a fire. I don’t know how it happened, but it started from outside. I walked into the kitchen, and the whole back wall was on fire, and then it started to spread. We got everyone outside and started spraying it, but by that time the fire had already started spreading, up to the attic and to other parts of the house. At that point, we had to just kind of watch it until the fire department came. That was the home I grew up in. We were going from staying with family to hotels to renting out the place of a friend of mine who moved to another state. So that’s always hit home for me, seeing people going through situations like that.”


“Hearing some of the people in the shelter say they are going through something similar, and they look up to me because of that, it makes it easier for me to open up about it. For me, it’s just important to help out troubled young adults and everybody that’s going through a situation like that, to know they’re not the only ones. That they can come out from it positively and do big things from it.”

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Denzel Ward, Browns cornerback

Cause: Heart health awareness

“Representing this cause is in my dad’s name. Before he passed away in 2016 from a heart attack, he had a motto he used to always say: ‘Make them know your name.’ Either on the football field, or in the world, impacting people in a positive way and doing things to make the world know your name.”

“I want to bring awareness to heart health, preventing heart attacks and educating people on using things like an AED (automated external defibrillator) to help resuscitate people who may be going through a heart attack. My dad had his heart attack during a spin class, and there was actually a defibrillator there at the facility, but it was sitting on the wall and no one used it. So, more training, more devices and more educating people on how to use a defibrillator. It’s not very hard to use it, so just educating people and giving them confidence so they’re not afraid to use it. If someone would have used it on my dad, he could have had a chance to still be alive.”


“My dad motivates me every day. That was my best friend, someone who I wanted to make proud throughout life. He was a school principal, so that’s what he was all about, giving back and doing whatever he could to change peoples’ lives. I remember that his funeral was packed with all the people he had impacted—the kids he had worked with, teachers, friends. He made people know his name, and that’s what motivates me.”

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Darius Leonard, Colts linebacker

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Cause: Edwin Jackson 53 Foundation, which provides financial assistance to walk-on athletes, in honor of the late Colts linebacker who was killed by a drunk driver earlier this year.

“I’m wearing no. 53 this season, and Edwin was the last person to wear it here with the Colts. I wanted to uphold his tradition, so this was an easy cause for me to pick. Hearing what type of person he was, I try to mimic the way that he was, bringing energy to the defense or to the team, being that leader and also being that guy off the field who is doing things in the community.”

“His foundation is for walk-on athletes, to help them give their all to their sport and give back to their community. Edwin was a walk-on at Georgia Southern, so the foundation wants to help other people live out their dream to go play sports and get their education. They are trying to give money back to the athletes who really need it. I didn’t have a full scholarship coming out of high school, so I had a similar background. People like Edwin and like myself, we had to work for a lot of things just to be able to put this horseshoe on the side of our helmets. You never know who you are going to help.”

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“[Colts safety] Matthias [Farley] talks about Edwin sometimes. We try to play in remembrance of him and the way he played. Every single play I’m out there screaming, hollering, having a good time, and making sure everybody is enjoying what they are doing. I feel like it’s contagious—if you see one guy out there having fun, nine times out of 10, the next person will pick up their spirit and try to match mine. Edwin’s parents came up to me after one game and said that I was wearing his number well, and he would have been happy to see me wear it. Hopefully I can continue to keep a smile on his parents’ face and wear it proud.”

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Kyle Van Noy, Patriots linebacker

Cause: Van Noy Valor Foundation, which provides opportunities and resources to children who are adopted, in foster care or disadvantaged.

“I want people to know that adoption and foster care are a blessing, and the younger kids in the community who are struggling, they are a part of our future. We want to help them out as much as possible, because they deserve every bit of chance as everybody else in the world. We are just trying to shine light to it and bring awareness to it. I’m adopted, and my wife’s dad and brother are adopted, so it really hits home for us.”

“I always tell people I was brought into this world a different way, with the family I was supposed to be in. I was adopted when I was a couple weeks old out of Las Vegas. [I’ve seen] more people talking about it; more people coming up to me, and telling me their story about adoption, or how they have taken on foster kids. It’s been a huge blessing and I hope to continue that process of just trying to help. Sometimes people are put in uncertain circumstances they may not have control of, but they can control how they respond toward those situations, and they can work hard in whatever it is they want to do and become.”

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“When I was growing up, no matter how much my family had, we always tried to give back first. My dad worked for the parks and rec department, so he worked with a lot of inner-city families. Each year during Christmas, we picked a family that was in need, and we gathered items to give them for Christmas. I'm trying to do that as well. We do a Christmas tree giveaway every year with our foundation, to help families celebrate Christmas. We also do backpack giveaways, and a homecoming and prom dress giveaway, where kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to go to homecoming and prom get to shop for clothes. We have been growing so much, and we’re excited for the future of the foundation, hopefully being able to give kids scholarships and other things to help them succeed in life.”

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Garrison Sanborn, Bucs long snapper

Cause: Arms Wide Open Childhood Cancer Foundation

“When I played in Buffalo, our punter, Brian Moorman, had the PUNT Foundation that works with children battling cancer. I was able to meet Sally Kabel, a young girl who was suffering from Infant Mixed Lineage (MLL) Leukemia. We really hit it off with her family. I have a daughter, Julianne, who is now 4, and she got to play with Sally. I have pictures of them at the games Sally was able to attend. Seeing them together, I could envision what that would be like if the shoe were on the other foot. Their family is an inspiration to my wife and me, how they handled the situation through the years.”

“Sally passed this September, so I wanted to be able to honor her with My Cause, My Cleats. If you read on her family’s blog, they say that every time you see a sunflower, it’s Sally, to think of Sally. So we put sunflowers on the cleats to represent her and her life, along with a rainbow. Her family is very excited that we’d be thinking of her during this event. And I’m very excited, because we are able to benefit a charity that goes directly to helping their cause, helping them get their feet back under them. They have been burdened with not only the emotional hardship of this loss, but financially, it’s been devastating to them.”

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“I hope anyone who sees my cleats will research the sunflowers and rainbows, and be able to read a little bit more about their story. When you see somebody dealing with that kind of adversity and doing it with such grace the way they do—I have never had to deal with anything like that, and there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to deal with things with just as much grace. It helps me to remember that I should be putting more towards helping others.”

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Charles Leno, Jr., Bears left tackle

Cause: Special Olympics

“I picked the Special Olympics, because I’ve never come across anyone who has participated in the program who ever looked at themselves as challenged in any way. They don’t care what people say or think. The individuals always show so much willpower and perseverance with whatever limitation they may have, it’s never something that holds them back. The Special Olympics has really put a lot into perspective for me. On days where I’m tired or sore, whatever my excuse may be, it always makes me remember that there are so many kids out there that watch me from the stands on Sundays or at home with their families who are a part of the Special Olympics, who I have to be strong for and fight through my struggles, just like they do with theirs.” 

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Ronnie Stanley, Ravens left tackle

Cause: Casey Cares Foundation, which arranges programs and events for critically ill children and their families

“I met a kid named Noah at a Halloween shopping spree the foundation hosted with three kids who were diagnosed with cancer I made a special connection with Noah. He was super energetic, running through the store. I loved the way he looked at life, and how mature he was for his age. It really impacted me. Since that Halloween event, I took Noah and a bunch of the foundation’s kids to see Jumanji at a special showing before it came out. He was really excited. I gave him my cell phone number, and I follow him on his Instagram account that his family runs. Just to see how much he has grown, how full of life he is, it makes me happy to see that.”

—Kalyn Kahler contributed reporting