One of the biggest motivators for Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden has always been his little brother Jacob. Jacob was born with a cognitive disorder that has limited his language and speech. Since Joe was 7, he has watched Jacob compete in the Special Olympics. And years later, Jacob has inspired Joe to get involved with the organization.
Joe Haden recently became the first pro football player to be named a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics. He will be at the Super Bowl this weekend, working with Special Olympics athlete Vanessa Robles to raise awareness about the games and the Unified Relay Across America. The race begins May 29 in Maine, winds through Washington D.C., and Miami, and converges in Los Angeles for the 2015 Special Olympic World Games. Haden will also be working with other captains to raise awareness, including figure skater Michelle Kwan and pro basketball stars Damian Lillard and Elena Delle Donne.
Earlier this week, SI Kids spoke with Haden about his bond with his brother, the importance of the Special Olympics, and his Super Bowl predictions.
How does it feel to be the first pro football player named a Global Ambassador the Special Olympics?
I’m honored. I’m blessed to be in this position. It’s really special and it really touches home, as far as my little brother Jacob being involved and me going and watching him compete all the time. Being a Global Ambassador is great for me and my family. I’m really looking forward to raising awareness and trying to get more people involved.
How excited are you that you get to promote the games and raise awareness at the biggest event in football, the Super Bowl?
Oh man, it’s a blessing. To be able to have this big of a stage to raise awareness about the Special Olympics, and inform people so that they know that I’m involved in the relay race — it’s amazing. It’s the Super Bowl, so every media outlet available will be there.
Your relationship with your brother Jacob is truly incredible. How have the Special Olympics helped you become even closer?
Well, Jacob’s been to hundreds of my games. He always supports me. But when I’m in the stands cheering him on, he doesn’t even really know how to act. Whenever I come, he gets so excited, so hyped, like he can’t hold it in. Just the bond that I’m sharing with him… Like, I can show him that I have his back, and that it’s his time to show everyone what he can do. That’s what it’s all about.
What events does he compete in?
Jacob is a sprinter and a bocce ball player.
Awesome! Does he share any of your athletic ability and drive?
Oh man, definitely. Jacob is a super athlete. He’s so talented. He doesn’t really do football, though, because he doesn’t like to be touched.
In all your time watching him compete, do you have a particular memory or was there a moment that you realized you wanted to be involved with the Special Olympics at a higher level?
Just all the times I would go out to Jacob’s events. When I would see him run… And actually it wasn’t just Jacob, it was the interaction he would have with the other kids. And whenever they get an award – gold, silver, bronze or even a ribbon — the expressions on their faces and how happy they were, I knew I wanted to be a part of that. Those kids put life in perspective for you. When you think you’re going through a struggle, and you look up and see how free-spirited they are and how much they enjoy life, it makes you look at yourself in a different way.
What’s the best way for special needs kids to get involved in athletics and for kids to help them with the transition into sports?
Just interacting with them. Involving them in everything they do. A lot of special needs kids are better athletes than kids without intellectual disorders, so it’s good to get everyone involved and put them on an equal playing field. If you embrace them and get everyone out there playing as one, it will be a good time. Everyone should join in on the relay.
How has Jacob fueled your success in the NFL?
He’s one of the biggest reasons why I keep going and keep fighting and pushing – why I keep trying to go the extra mile. I know he loves the game and that he gets so much motivation being in the suite and watching me play, he’s just so hype. So I definitely want to do it for him.
Since you’ll be at the Super Bowl, do you any thoughts on Deflategate?
Yeah, I don’t even want to deal with Deflategate. That’s crazy. If you’re a football player and a competitor, you don’t want to feel like someone has an advantage based on how pumped up their football was.
Do you have a prediction on how the game will go?
Either way I think it will be a great game. But at the end of the day, I think Seattle’s defense is somehow going to make something happen. Their defense has a bond that is hard to build.
For more about Joe Haden's commitment to the Special Olympics and his relationship with his brother, check out Kid Reporter Max Ferregur's video interview with the Browns cornerback!
Photos: Special Olympics, Jason Miller/Getty Images