Live United…two words, so simple but yet so powerful. They serve as a slogan for the United Way, but as a way of life for those in the community they unite.
For Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward, Live United has special meaning.
"It's staying connected throughout the community," said Heyward. "The United Way serves as a bridge to help us give back and to unite as one and stay united."
Heyward is in his second year serving as the Steelers representative for the United Way, carrying on a tradition that began 41 years ago when the NFL and United Way became partners to assist the communities they serve. Franco Harris was the first Steelers player to lend a hand to the cause, and others who have played key roles in the relationship include Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. and team President Art Rooney II. Heyward takes pride in carrying on that tradition.
"They have all taken pride in the community and being involved with the United Way," said Heyward. "I want to continue that and keep on trying to improve upon it. It's so important to be involved. There are so many people who helped me get where I am today. I am very blessed and in a humbling position. I want to have a chance to give back to my community.
"Playing for such a prominent, historical team like the Steelers you see so much involvement in the community and what it means. It's just continuing to give back. Being a part of the United Way and the Pittsburgh Steelers I have to hold myself up to a higher standard. I don't want to let the Steelers name or United Way name down. I take a lot of pride in that and make sure I am holding up my end."
He holds up his end, and then some. In his role as the Steelers representative Heyward speaks to local businesses and organizations, as well as his teammates, sharing with them the mission of the United Way, the endeavors the organization is focusing on and in some cases encouraging them to donate as individuals and companies, while in others thanking them for their continued support.
"Cam is a leader on the field and a leader in the community, helping people understand the vital needs of our neighbors in our region and the best ways to help them," said Bob Nelkin, President and Chief Professional Officer, United Way of Allegheny County.
When Heyward speaks, people show up for United Way meetings and they listen. He easily connects with those he is speaking with, as his Pittsburgh connections run deep. Not only does he play for the Steelers, but his father Craig 'Ironhead' Heyward played for the University of Pittsburgh and his grandmother still lives in Pittsburgh.
"Cam has been phenomenal not just talking about the needs in the community and the message, but it's great that he has that Pittsburgh connection," said Megan Marucco, Senior Corporate Relations Manager at United Way of Allegheny County. "When he is out in the community for us, it's not about ego, not I am here because I am a professional football player, but instead it's I am here for the community. Having that genuine nature really just blew me away from the first time he spoke to a group. He is very open to talking about his life, his experience following in his father's footsteps. I am so impressed with the genuineness he has and shows with everyone. The gratitude he shows to the higher end donors is the same that he shows to the people that work for the agencies. He treats everyone the same.
"It is invaluable. It is huge to have him and the Steelers a part of what we do. We have such a strong relationship with the Steelers. We are known as having one of the strongest team relationships across the NFL with our local team. To have him come out and be our representative helps us open doors where we normally can't, get the message out to larger groups than we normally get in front of. It gives credibility that it's something the Steelers are behind. If you put the black and gold behind something, everybody tends to follow."
Heyward's contributions aren't limited to speaking engagements. He also attends events in the community benefiting children and the elderly, including the team's United Way Day of Caring at local senior centers.
"They are fun events," said Heyward. "The seniors are active and love it. They really enjoy it. It's humbling to see and hopefully when I get that age I am that active. And when we are out there with the kids, they love seeing players show up. You just want to do your part. It's another chance for me to help our community. You never know when you can brighten someone's day. I like to do that as many opportunities that I can."
Cam Heyward is active in a variety of ways throughout the Pittsburgh community. Check out some photos of Cam supporting his favorite charities.
Marucco said seeing Heyward at a senior center last year, spending time after the event talking to an individual who is blind and has developmental disabilities, warmed her heart and further validated having him as the United Way representative.
"I know this isn't a stat they keep track of, but Cam might have the best smile in all of football," said Marucco. "He will go out to the events, he isn't afraid to have fun, make a fool of himself. That ego is always in check with him. He will do exercises and line dancing with the seniors, joke and have fun. He gives everyone a smile, hugs people. He is warm and inviting."
Heyward doesn't limit his community involvement to the United Way. This year he is teaming with fellow defensive end Brett Keisel to co-host the Cystic Fibrosis 65 Roses Sports Auction. He also makes regular visits to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh along with some of his teammates, something he enjoys as much as the kids do.
"A lot of those kids are going through tough situations," said Heyward. "If me coming by, hanging out and playing games, or just getting to know the kids brightens their day, I am all for it. Kelvin (Beachum) and David (DeCastro) and I take pride in acknowledging that we are in good situations and try to make someone's situation a little better.
"We have 24 hours in a day and why shouldn't you be willing to give up one. I think everybody should. It shouldn't be taken lightly. There are so many people out there struggling. One hour can change a life and it's beneficial."
And one person can help change a community. Through the United Way, Heyward is doing that. "When times are tough we pull together in Pittsburgh," said Marucco. "Cam has that attitude. He has ties to Pittsburgh. He has that in him that it's about buckling down and getting the work done, whether it's on the field or addressing the needs of the community. We all need to come together and make it happen .We live and die by how each Steelers Sunday goes, but also as a community we are all in it together. And Cam is a part of that."
Community Commitment: Steelers representative for the United Way of Allegheny County, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Cystic Fibrosis 65 Roses Sports Auction, and other Steelers team events including Steelers Style Fashion Show and Project Bundle-Up.