It's not unusual to see players on the field in pregame warmups with their cleats representing their city, showing their personality or just something fun to fire them up.
But starting this week, their cleats will take on a whole new look, showing off something they are passionate about.
For the sixth year the NFL is allowing players to represent a charity that touches them deeply in a unique manner with the league's player cause initiative, My Cause, My Cleats. Week 13 will be the first week players are permitted to wear them.
The initiative was created for NFL players to showcase a charitable cause in order to bring attention to it, and the players take part in helping with the design of their cleats, with it encompassing the 'It Takes All of Us' campaign the NFL launched.
After, the players wear the cleats, they have the option to auction them off to raise money for their cause on NFL Auction, with 100% of the funds raised given to the charity. Fans may bid on player cleats at NFL.com/Auction.
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During Week 13 of the 2021 NFL season, Steelers players are showcasing their chosen charitable cause on their game cleats
Cause: MOMS GROUP Incorporated and B3 Foundation
This past spring Zach Banner spent an evening visiting with a group of women who have felt pain in their lives. Unimaginable pain. The pain of losing a child to gun violence.
It touched Banner deeply, so much so that he wanted to represent them on his cleats.
Tina Ford, a local mom that Banner met with, started MOMS GROUP Incorporated, just a few months after her son, Armani Ford, was murdered in 2019, just a month before Mother's Day that year, when he was ambushed and shot to death. It's a group of women who have been through the same pain of losing a child to violence. Banner will support MOMS GROUP Inc., as well as his own B3 Foundation.
And with the increase in gun violence in the City of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, this is an ideal time for Banner to bring their cause to the forefront.
"I think it's relevant in the City of Pittsburgh, in the heart of Pittsburgh, especially some of the neighborhoods on the East side, inner city Pittsburgh where they need help with the gun violence," said Banner. "My city back home, East Tacoma, Washington needs help with gun violence. It's a topic we have to keep talking about. We have to do what we can to keep it out there to help control it."
Banner, who is a member of the Steelers Social Justice Committee that is working to help those fighting gun violence, knows that the voice of NFL players can make an impact, even if it saves just one life.
"It's really important," said Banner. "We are creating a natural spotlight that comes with our platform. We are able to shine it on things way more important than football."
Banner not only hopes there is a way out there to stop the violence, but he also wants to be sure those who are impacted have someone in their corner.
"Whatever the conflict is, it's not worth a life being taken away," said Banner. "Regardless of the situation, it's important to shine light and create empathy for the families who are impacted by it."
Cause: Girls Inc. of Tennessee Valley and The Children's Home & Lemieux Family Center
Joshua Dobbs continues his support of Girls Inc. TNV, through his cleats, an organization that focuses on the development of the whole girl where she learns to value herself, take risks, and discover and develop her inherent strengths.
"I worked with the chapter in Knoxville," said Dobbs. "It's an organization that goes into schools and focuses on girl empowerment. They focus on STEM, math and science, helping them educationally. They also talk to them about societal issues, teaching them protective techniques if they were ever to encounter danger. It's a cool organization that provides support to girls that might not have it at home or school, or role models to look up to."
Dobbs said every time he works with the organization, which he has done for several years, he walks away with a feeling of joy that he made a difference, that he impacted someone's life, and that means the world to him.
"I interacted with them, invited some of them to my camp," said Dobbs of his involvement with them for the last few years. "They wrote me a letter about their background and home life. My time with them, I was able to have an impact on their lives and it touched me.
"I did a movie screening with the chapters in Knoxville in the past, I went, me and 100 girls. Afterwards I got a chance to spend time with them, talk with them. The adversity they went through. Just to be a positive influence in their lives touched me. It's near and dear to me."
He is also supporting The Children’s Home and Lemieux Family Center in Pittsburgh, a place that has a mission to promote the health and well-being of infants and children through services that establish and strengthen the family. Dobbs has visited the kids there on numerous occasions, to read to them, do arts and crafts and just spend time together.
"I am thankful to have them be a part of my life here in Pittsburgh," said Dobbs. "I feel like they are family. It's always fun to come here and hang out and spend time together.
"For me it's a personal getaway. We get so consumed in our daily schedules, whether it's football, or going to work. When you come here you see there are other things that are important in this world to take time and enjoy and take in. It's good for me to experience this and get around people I normally wouldn't on a daily basis. I am thankful to have them in my life."
Cause: Michael J. Fox Foundation - Parkinson's Disease
Eric Ebron's grandfather, United Stated Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Oling Jackson, served his country proudly, a hero who served in three wars, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
But there was another battle he fought, Parkinson's disease, which can be one of the toughest enemies anyone can face. And that is why he is supporting his cause, the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Ebron still holds a special place in his heart for his grandfather, who passed away in 2003, and that is why his cleats bring awareness to those fighting Parkinson's.
"I never really went back when he passed away to try to bring up old memories," said Ebron talking about his grandfather. "I was fairly young. We were trying to figure out what his sickness was and why he was sick. He passed away from Parkinson's disease. And that's what I try to do now. Most of my charity work is because of him."
While he never shared stories of his service with his grandson, his daily actions spoke of the man he was, living a life reflective of a man committed to helping others, giving of himself, despite what life dealt him with his disease.
While Ebron would have loved more time with his grandfather, him passing when he was just 10-years old, he knows how blessed he is to have had the time he did. Ebron has honored his grandfather's memory on his cleats in the past, and honors him daily with his name, Oling, tattooed on his left arm, next to an Eagle and the words, 'Courage, strength and endurance.'
"The first name I had tattooed on my body was his name," said Ebron. "That's the amount of respect I have for him and the things that he brought to our family. I remember the cookouts we had with him, and they are very vivid memories, and they were always the best memories when he was around. When he passed away, our family kind of crumbled and you felt that.
"I have a major amount of respect for who he was, and I feel like I am now what he was to our family. I have the utmost respect for my grandfather. He was an awesome guy.
"He had so much strength. You could tell he had the strength because when he was dealing with Parkinson's disease, there wasn't anything he wasn't able to try to do. He would struggle to do things, but he wanted to make sure he did it on his time and how he wanted to. That's just who he was.
"Growing up, I have two older brothers and our father wasn't around a lot, but we spent a lot of time with granddad, and he was everything. Every time he called us, he started off with the same line. What's the good word and the good word always was good morning, good afternoon or good evening. That's how he wanted to start every conversation. That's rubbed off on me. When I have conversations with my wife, whether it's the first thing in the morning or late at night, it's always starts with good morning, or good night. It's a basis for any conversation with positivity and that's what he tried to bring."
Cause: Reflections of Grace
Safety Terrell Edmunds is supporting Reflections of Grace with his cleats, a foundation that supports pediatric brain cancer.
It was established in 2008 after Tamara and Brian Ekis lost their precious, five-year-old daughter, Grace Elizabeth, on Valentine's Day, an opportunity to channel their grief by helping others.
Reflections of Grace is committed to providing financial, emotional and educational support for children and their families affected by pediatric brain cancer.
The foundation holds an annual Race for Grace to raise money to help others in the North Huntingdon area, just outside of Pittsburgh.
Cause: Mental Health Awareness
Trey Edmunds is real.
He knows everyone has fought that battle at some point, dealing with some type of mental health issue. And he is no different.
That is why his cleats are bringing attention to mental health awareness, something that was a silent disease for a long time, but is now gaining a braver voice, especially among NFL athletes.
"It is just bringing awareness overall. Just bringing awareness to mental health overall," said Edmunds. "Recently I've just been introduced to mental health, within the last five years, and I've been able to see the importance of it in the world of sports and also everyday life. I see how people deal with mental health battles or how they fight mental health battles, how it weighs on people. People not being able to identify it, knowing they have problems and knowing they're fighting things, but not being able to identify what exactly they are fighting, what exactly the problems are."
Edmunds has learned more about mental health issues through his fiancé, Jameice DeCoster, who is getting her PhD in Mental Health Psychology.
"When we first met, I had heard about the term mental health and especially the lack of mental health resources in the black community," said Edmunds. "She exposed me to a bigger meaning, taking a deeper dive into what it actually means and break it down. Some things I've been able to explore myself, but without getting the knowledge from her, without me talking to her, I don't know I would be where I am today."
There was a time when discussing mental health issues was almost considered taboo in society, but now, thanks to people bringing awareness to it, it's much more commonplace.
"I think it's super important athletes are speaking out," said Edmunds. "Just the conversations I've been having with people, it has elevated me to be in a more peaceful mindset. It allowed me to see things differently. It allowed me to see things for what they are, and not for what I want them to be. Just being able to talk to people in that field and see how they see things and understand that the way I feel on a daily basis over things that aren't going right and be able to understand that's okay.
"In the past we've looked at mental health situations as minor as a people. Everybody's been always telling you, fight through it, tough it out, get over it. But not knowing that people are actually fighting real battles."
Cause: No Stone Unturned
When they say football is family, it's true. Because once you have walked into a locker room, interacted with current and former players, you become one.
For B.J. Finney, who played collegiately at Kansas State, it's that family that has him helping former Kansas State football player Eric Wolford, and his wife Melinda, with their foundation, No Stone Unturned, through his cleats this week.
No Stone Unturned was created by the Wolfords after their son, Stone, was diagnosed with Cardio-Facio-Cutaneous Syndrome (CFC Syndrome) at age two, a rare genetic syndrome that includes developmental, cognitive, and neurological delays with numerous medical complications.
The Wolfords struggled searching for care for him, much of it difficult to access and quite costly, so they created the foundation to help others in their situation.
"No Stone Unturned is an organization based in Manhattan, Kansas, and they provide therapy and services for special needs children," said Finney. "They offer a wide variety of therapies and services. Eric graduated from Kansas State in 1993, is a former football player and now the offensive line coach at the University of Kentucky. Their son, Stone, is the namesake No Stone Unturned because anywhere they went to try and find therapies that he needed, they would have to go all over to get them done. They started this foundation to have all these therapies in one location. They wanted to have all these therapies offered in-house in a location in Kansas."
Finney and his wife Amanda have worked with the foundation in the past, including attending their annual fundraising gala.
"It really turns into a former Kansas State football reunion from all ages, all years that played there," said Finney. "It's a big event in the Manhattan, Kansas community. They are putting a new building up now that is actually going to be at the end of the road that we live on in Manhattan. I'll continue to work with them and help them get as much traction as they can."
Finney said My Cause, My Cleats is a perfect opportunity to share the stories of these small foundations, because it helps families know services are available to them.
"It's awesome," said Finney. "I can't really put it into words. There are so many organizations like No Stone Unturned that go unnoticed, that people don't know about to help them. They just don't know who they are. They are there to help people, but people just don't always know who they are, where they are. Hopefully now they do."
Cause: Breast Cancer Awareness
Ulysees Gilbert III has made it a practice to support breast cancer causes since he was drafted by the Steelers, and that is the case again this week as his cleats are supporting breast cancer awareness.
"My mom is a breast cancer survivor; my great aunt was a two-time breast cancer survivor," said Gilbert. "It's close to my heart because it's right here at home. I just want to do anything I can."
Gilbert has taken part in the Steelers Annual Healthy Cooking Demo for UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital for breast cancer survivors and current patients of the hospital's cancer program.
And he has done it with his heart, mind and soul fully on board.
"I just want to do everything I can for cancer and breast cancer and help any way I can," said Gilbert.
Cause: Multiple Sclerosis Foundation
Chaz Green's cleats are hitting very close to home for the offensive lineman.
He is supporting the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, something that has deep meaning for him as his older sister, Brianna Green, is living with the disease that is a chronic neurological condition that affects the central nervous system.
"It is actually very close to me," said Green. "My sister was diagnosed with it about 10 years ago. Just seeing day to day, some of the things and the challenges that she has to deal with, as well as others. I think it's something that I want to bring awareness to.
"It's a disease of the immune system and most people you see on a day-to-day basis that have it, you would never know because they don't really show it until they have relapses. Different things can cause flare ups, whether it be the weather, climate, time of year, different things. There's a lot of different medications to cure it, but every individual is different. Every individual reacts to each one differently. It's tough to find a specific cure that will work in the long term. It affects everybody differently. Some people can actually lose feeling, eyesight. Some people have gotten paralyzed from it. And with all the stuff going around today with COVID, that brings more of a heightened awareness of people that have to be really careful."
As a football player, Green's reaction is always to protect his sister, even if she is older. It's tough on him not being able to do anything to protect her from M.S.
"Being a football player, even though I am younger, I'm still a big brother," said Green. "I wish I could do something to take it away and use my brute force and strength, but with this situation that's not the case."
What he does take comfort in is being able to bring the cause to the forefront and help people understand it and help those who are fighting the battle.
"Whatever I can do to bring awareness, I want to do," said Green. "It I can use my platform with my cleats, my play, whatever it is to bring awareness, I'm all for it.
"I think the NFL represents more than just us as athletes and we just want to use this brand to bring awareness and just shed light on things bigger than us."
Cause: Da' Bigger Picture Foundation
For Najee Harris, his cause doesn't get any more personal.
Through his own foundation, Da’ Bigger Picture Foundation, Harris is assisting underserved families in reaching their potential and goals.
And he knows what it's like to need that extra help.
Harris faced adversity in his life, including living off and on in a homeless shelter, one that he actually went back to in April to host a draft party for the kids who are served there. It was that adversity and more that shaped him, that guided him, that made him who he is today and helped him get through some of the football challenges he has faced.
"That is one of the things," said Harris. "Me growing up with my childhood, how I was raised. There were times when I wouldn't be the luckiest person in the world. But there are other people going through worse than you."
It was during those tough times that there was always a constant in his life, his mother, Tianna Hicks. She helped him navigate through the challenges, she supported him every way she could, and she gave him the strength and love he needed.
"Words can't describe how much strength she gave me," said Harris. "There were times when my dad would be doing his thing and my mom would be the one taking care of us, putting food on the table. She tried giving us shelter. As one person with five kids, two is hard enough, doing all of that stuff shows how strong a woman can be, how strong women are when they have to provide for their family.
"People think strength is muscles and stuff. Strength is what she did, never quitting on us. It was inspiring. I love her for that. She always did her best to help us out."
Cause: Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.)
While J.C. Hassenauer is on the Reserve/Injured List, and like a few of his teammates won't be playing and wearing his cleats in the game on Sunday, he is still showing his support.
Hassenauer is wearing his cleats to support Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.)
C.O.P.S. was created in 1984 with the mission to aid the survivors of officers who are killed in the line of duty, offering a wide range of services to assist everyone from young kids to the parents of those who lost their lives.
"They support the families of the police officers that are killed in the line of service," said Hassenauer. "I've always had a spot in my heart for the first responders as I have some close friends and family that are first responders, so I wanted to do something to help. I found this foundation from one of my former Alabama teammates, Ryan Kelly, who plays for the Colts. He supports them every year with his My Cause, My Cleats. I looked into them and thought it would be a cool foundation because they support police, and not only them but their families as well. It's kids, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, the whole family. When a family member dies, it's a travesty. To have that support, especially with the service these people are providing, putting their lives on the line every single day, it's a great foundation."
Hassenauer is pleased the NFL gives players this type of platform, and opportunity to highlight charities that many might not be familiar with.
"It's a great opportunity for them to grow and for people to learn about them," said Hassenauer. "The platform the NFL has given us is tremendous. It helps a lot of foundations grow and gain support."
Cause: The Heyward House & Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation
Family is everything.
And for Cameron Heyward, family is what his cleats are all about.
When he takes the field this week, Heyward will be sporting cleats that honor his late father, Craig 'Ironhead' Heyward, an 11-year NFL veteran who lost his battle to brain cancer in 2006, when he was only 39 years, and Cameron was still in high school. He will also honor all of those who are battling brain cancer as he supports The Heyward House and the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation, who are fighting to find a cure.
Craig Heyward was first diagnosed with cancer in 1998, ending his NFL career. Heyward said his dad would still come to his games as he battled the disease, but sadly, the tumor returned, this time causing a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side and the challenge even greater.
"His goal was to get to a point where he could walk for my senior day of football," said Heyward. "Obviously, he didn't make it. It was tough on all of us. Through that we always understood he wasn't going to feel sorry for himself. He was going to get to a point where he was going to be able to walk. He always had goals in mind and cared about the people he loved.
"We had to rally around him, make sure we could be there for him. When he passed away, I was at a basketball tournament. My mom had to muster up the strength to tell me. It was tough to go through a moment like that, him being the rock of our family, but it made us all step up."
And Heyward continues to step up. He has immersed himself in the Pittsburgh community, doing multiple things to honor his father. He has a 'Pittsburgh is Stronger than Cancer' t-shirt to raise funds for research and helping families deal with hardships, as well as 'Craig's Closet,' one of the foundation's main endeavors that is a true testament to his father.
The idea of 'Craig's Closet' started when his dad arrived at the University of Pittsburgh as a freshman running back with one suit, something he was grateful to at least have coming from a single-parent home with six siblings. There are many young men currently in Pittsburgh area facing the same type of battle, many that don't even have that one suit they can wear to a job interview, or a college recruiting trip, or anywhere. 'Craig's Closet' helps provide them with suits.
"It's very important to me," said Heyward. "The idea came from my dad. When he grew up, he only had one suit. A lot of his friends didn't have suits at all. This is a creative way we thought of to give back to the community and help prepare young men for jobs, or homecoming, moving forward in life. You never know how much a suit can help present yourself.
"He cared about a lot of people, he cared about kids. Having a suit prepares you for the next part of your journey.
"We're just trying to prepare these kids for the future, helping out any way. Whether it's taking your girlfriend out for a nice dinner, and you just want to show her how you present yourself. Or if you are getting ready for a job and you understand you want to look sharp and present yourself well, this is your opportunity."
Heyward said when he arrived at the Steelers, he learned about giving back from the players who came before him. Choosing to focus on cancer research was easy for him. But dealing with a parent who has or had cancer, is never easy.
"It's a tough toll to go through it the first round, let alone go through it the second round," said Heyward. "It takes a burden on a family and is nothing I would wish on anybody.
"Everybody goes through it differently. I was more reserved, kept to myself after it happened. I had a good support system around me that helped me."
Miles Killebrew believes kids should have an opportunity to be kids, which means always having a safe place to play where they can just be themselves.
That is why he joined the board of Playworks, an organization that serves low-income schools in the Detroit and greater Michigan area helping to improve the health and well-being of children by increasing opportunities for physical activity and a safe place to play.
"Their overall message is impacting kid's lives through play," said Killebrew. "They do a lot of work with underfunded schools, schools that don't have recess or means in which they have a safe environment to play with other kids and just be kids. They set up a system in which kids can play and it's a non-bullying environment. It's a dual edged sword where we're tackling bullying and we're also giving kids a safe place they may not have at home."
Killebrew said he was bullied as a kid because he excelled in math, pushing him ahead a grade in that class, and would have to deal with kids who weren't accepting. He had a strong family support system, but he knows not everyone is that lucky.
"It hits home with me," said Killebrew. "I was bullied when I was growing up. I was really good at math. I actually went to school to be an engineer. I was ahead a grade in math, so I was going to the high school when I was in middle school. It's cool with your parents because they can brag to their friends, but when you're a kid that sets you up a little bit. I struggled a little bit. I didn't really fit in very well. There were parts of my childhood that were a little tough. My parents, we didn't come from money. I didn't always have the coolest stuff. There were times I had holes in my shoes, stuff like that. It was a bad setup sometimes.
"But I was fortunate to have a place to play football and pursue my dreams. They are trying to do that with these kids in these underprivileged areas. I know how important it is to have friends and a place where you feel safe growing up. It's so crucial for these kids. Otherwise, it can just be too much. And I've seen what happens when it is too much. I've had friends who have taken their lives. I've had friends who turned to drugs and alcohol and it's hard. To be able to feel some kind of support, to be able to feel like you belong somewhere is crucial."
Killebrew understands times are changing, that kids sometimes prefer social media to going outside and playing basketball. But his goal is to make sure they have that opportunity to go outside and play or have a safe haven inside to.
"There is always that safe place," said Killebrew. "There are people who will love you just for you and you don't have to be anything extra. You don't have to do anything extra. Especially nowadays with TikTok, and I sound like my dad sounded when I was these kids age, but now more than ever I feel like these kids need to belong and they feel like they need to do things a certain way in order to fit in.
"I just want kids to focus on just being kids for as long as possible. Just play games. You don't need to be an adult. You don't need to try to do other things, especially in elementary school. I just want to get to them before they get corrupted by the world. Just play and be a kid for as long as possible. I mean, I was playing with Legos until I was in high school. They used to make fun of me. I don't care because I enjoyed being a kid for as long as possible. You only get it once. I don't know when it changes that all of a sudden, they don't want to play anymore. I don't know what that is. I don't know when that point is, but I hope it never comes for some because I'm still playing a kid's game."
Cause: Pilots for Patients
When a family has a loved one battling cancer or another serious disease, the last thing they need is an added burden weighing heavily on them.
And that is a feeling everyone involved with Pilots for Patients shares.
The organization provides free air transportation for patients needing diagnosis and treatment at medical facilities that aren't in their region, with the goal to eliminate any financial burden and to just let them focus on their health.
For John Leglue, helping the cause by supporting them on his cleats this week is personal.
"One of my close friends, his father passed away from cancer," said Leglue. "Pilots for Patients enables free flights for individuals going through different types of treatments, flying them back and forth to treatment and their hometown, and be able to see family during the last days. The patients don't have to pay for any of the flights or anything like that. It's all based on donations. They helped my friend's father get his treatment. I think it's really unbelievable that they have this charity and are able to do so many great things and allow people to be with their family and loved ones towards the later days in their life."
Leglue's shoes with have FLF on them, Faith Like Fred, honoring Fred Ruggles, who did lose his battle to cancer but benefitted from Pilots for Patients. It was his battle and that of others that inspired him to support the charity.
"When I was in New Orleans, I had another buddy, his father passed away from pancreatic cancer," said Leglue. "And Fred, he passed away this past year, so it's definitely meaningful. I always want to try to help. And to be able to relate on a personal level means a lot. I just want to make sure that we can help any other individuals going through the same types of hardships. I just think it's very important to do everything you can to give back. It's the most important thing to me."
Leglue appreciates the NFL allowing players the opportunity to share what's in their heart and give the causes the attention they deserve.
"It's huge we can do this," said Leglue. "I know a lot of people like to express themselves with My Cause, My Cleats. I really think it's huge because I feel like all the different charities that are brought to life from the different players on every team, they all have a different story, nobody comes from the same background. I think it's huge that everybody's able to help bring attention to all these different causes that are essential."
Many players have said it gives them even more inspiration when they take the field, and Leglue agrees.
"It's something more to play," said Leglue. "You are playing for the logo on your jersey, for the name on the back, but it's another super important cause you are playing for."
Cause: RMIII Foundation/ADHD
It doesn't get any more personal for a player with their cause than it does for Ray-Ray McCloud.
McCloud's cause is a personal one based on his own journey with ADHD. He was diagnosed in the third grade and struggled to overcome many obstacles, yet still graduated with honors.
McCloud launched his own foundation recently, the RMIII Foundation, which is focused on raising awareness for ADHD and helping kids and families with how to handle the very common learning challenge.
"It was really challenging in school wanting to get good grades and trying really hard while having to fight my own lack of focus and attention," said McCloud. "It was an internal battle of self-control. Before I was diagnosed, I felt pretty bad getting blamed for not being a good student or being labeled a bad kid when nobody understood that sometimes I had to work twice as hard on a simple task while other times the schoolwork came easy but sitting still did not. Additionally, I would often fall asleep in class, get in trouble and still get good grades, which would frustrate some teachers. I turned my focus to sports to balance my hyper-activity.
"Luckily I had great support from my family. It wasn't until college that I was also diagnosed with a sleep disorder. After getting help, I didn't feel alone, and my parents helped me to work through it and were very understanding. They always had high expectations for my grades and never made excuses. They still drove me to succeed, but they did it with support and patience and for that I am forever grateful."
His foundation was established in 2021 and is partnering with other ADHD nonprofit organizations to bring families together to provide knowledge of ADHD and available resources, to improve self-esteem for kids and to work on improving the future for kids and their families. McCloud plans to hold athletic camps that focus on fitness and exercise for kids, as finding ways to channel his energy helped him get to where he is today. He also is launching a clothing line this month to help the foundation.
Cause: Juvenile Diabetes Association
Steelers defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux is one of around 30 million people living with Type 1 diabetes, finding a way to manage it and continue to live his dream of playing football.
He knows what the challenge is like, and that is why he continually shares his story with young people also dealing with the disease, encouraging them to never give up their dreams.
The last few years he has spoken to kids, both virtually and in person, during National Diabetes Awareness Month. It's something he feels benefits him and the kids at the same time and that is why his cleats are highlighting the Juvenile Diabetes Association.
"I got diagnosed when I was 15, so a little later than some," said Mondeaux. "It was my freshman year of high school. I got pretty sick, lost a lot of weight. I had a lot of the symptoms that would point to diabetes. I had a test but for some reason it came back negative. We were trying to figure out what it was. I didn't get my results until a few weeks later. I got a blood test, spent about a week in the hospital.
"The biggest challenge for me was getting used to having it. I am a big guy, I eat a lot of food, I have a sweet tooth. It was hard for me when all my friends were eating. It was changing that part of my life. It's definitely helped in ways I didn't expect it to. I know a lot more about food. That can help you out when you know what you are putting in your body and how it will affect you.
"The toughest thing I have had to overcome is the diabetes. I had a tough time with it at first and that is okay. It's good to talk about it. You can live just as good of a lifestyle with it or without it."
In a world where everyone is quick to judge others, Mondeaux said one of the toughest things for him was talking about his diagnosis.
"The hardest thing for me was to be comfortable out in the open with it and not feel ashamed or embarrassed, especially at first," said Mondeaux. "The more comfortable or open you can be, then people are understanding. Just accepting it for me had been the hardest part."
Mondeaux said one of the most important factors in dealing with diabetes, is to never stop paying attention to it and caring for it.
"I pay more attention to detail as far as things that I eat, being on a schedule, managing my weight and making sure my blood sugars are good through practices and games," said Mondeaux. "Luckily, in college and the NFL, we've had great athletic training staffs and support groups that help me with all that. It's added challenges, but it also causes some benefits because I'm more aware of what I'm putting into my body and how it's going to affect me and how it's going to affect my energy levels. It's just the same as doing anything when you have Type 1. You just have to have a little bit more attention to detail and stay on top of everything."
Dan Moore Jr.
Cause: Mental Health Awareness
The conversations are honest. The athletes are real, oftentimes showing their vulnerability.
And for other athletes listening, it can really hit home.
That is the case for Dan Moore Jr.
Moore is a regular listener to the 'I Am Athlete' podcast on YouTube, done by Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson and Fred Taylor.
While the topics hit on everything on and off the field, one of the topics that regularly stands out for Moore is the mental health conversations.
"They talk about different things, have athletes from different sports, on their podcast," said Moore. "A lot of times a huge topic is mental health. They recently started to promote their mental health t-shirts, so that is the same theme I am going with for my cleats."
Moore said listening to them shows him that whatever he is feeling during the season is relatively normal, because others are currently or have felt the same thing during their playing days.
"It's huge to hear what they say because these guys are possibly going to be Hall of Famers and they talk about the same things, they felt around the same thing going through the draft process, going through different types of seasons, injuries, and then when they have guest speakers on they're able to express themselves and are vulnerable enough to open up about their experiences like we're all going through," said Moore. "It's kind of encouraging. It's opening people's eyes to talk about it more, because honestly, just sharing our experiences and talking about it, is what's going to help us get through it and know that we're not alone. There are other people going through these things."
Moore understands that talking about mental health isn't an easy subject to approach. Especially for a man. And especially for a football player who has an image of being a tough guy.
"I think it is a huge aspect of not only sports, but just in general," said Moore. "It's something a lot of people are afraid to speak up about, specifically athletes and males because it's the society we live in today. Athletes aren't given that platform to express their feelings. It's something we don't talk about a lot. But it's big. At the end of the day, we're all human. I think some people skip over that part when they're just sitting there watching us as entertainment.
"Your size, your strength, your God-given ability has nothing to do with the way you feel about something, the circumstances that are going on around you."
For a young player, adapting to the NFL can be challenging, and understanding that everything you are experiencing, especially as a rookie, someone else has done it and there are always people to get advice from.
"It's things like waking up early every single day and having the same routine, the same schedule every single day," said Moore. "And we're talking about waking up not feeling your best for almost six months, your body aching. Then there are the sacrifices, being away from your family, being away from loved ones. Not being able to spend holidays with your families. It takes a toll on you. And it can be some days where you just wake up with those kind of little attitudes. A lot of people I guess like to explain it as I haven't had my coffee yet. I guess it's very similar to that, but athletes definitely have those days, and it could be something very minute. It's about coping with it and understanding what you're feeling, maybe talking to someone about it and trying to work through it because at the end of the day you do have a task at hand, and you got to get done."
Cause: Cancer Awareness
James Pierre knows how losing someone to cancer can hurt, how it can impact someone, how it can change their lives so much.
He saw it happen to the mother of two of his closest childhood friends, Devon Sanders and Malik Fleming, who last October lost their mother, Shirley Temple Kemp, known to all as 'Miss Shirley,' to cancer.
"She had very advanced cancer, and lost her life to it," said Pierre. "It was a really bad situation she was in with her health.
"I want to bring awareness to it. I want to bring attention to it to help others. He also lost his aunt to cancer this year. It seems like it's happening a lot in my hometown. I just want to do something.
"It was really hard to see what he went through. Growing up, we were always around each other. All we did was play football, run around the neighborhood and play. We used to all be together. It just hit home."
For Pierre, having the opportunity to show support for her and them in an NFL game is something that means the world to him.
"This is very special for me," said Pierre. "Growing up I always wanted to be in the NFL. I would see guys doing things like this, supporting people and bringing awareness to things. It's really special to be able to do it."
Pierre shared a picture of his cleats with the family, and he said the reaction they had was more than he could imagine.
"It was so priceless," said Pierre. "There are 11 of them. All of them texted me. They were sending the picture of the cleats to each other. They were texting me back, telling me thank you, that it meant so much to them."
Pierre can't wait for the opportunity to put the cleats on at Heinz Field on Sunday.
"It's going to feel amazing," said Pierre. "I am going to have a whole bunch of reasons to play, a whole bunch of whys to play for to get the job done."
Cause: Palmer Land Conservancy
Joe Schobert loves to explore the land. He loves getting out in the wide open, enjoying what nature has to offer, including seeing National Parks like Yellowstone and beautiful areas like Paradise Valley, Montana to name a few of his favorites.
"In the offseasons I go to national parks, national forests, public lands, places like that," said Schobert. "The last couple of years I have been more interested in understanding how the conservation community works and what people are doing to conserve these places. Obviously, as the United States population expands as people expand, there's less and less of it around the country so it's important to protect places we do have."
The desire to protect the beautiful places he has visited over the years is why Schobert is representing the Palmer Land Conservancy on his cleats. The Colorado-based organization began in 1977 to work with individuals, private and public partners and communities in an effort to protect land, including public parks and open spaces as well as iconic scenic views.
The organization promotes the conservation of the natural assets mainly in the southern Colorado area for people to enjoy now and in the future.
"There are places here that are very beautiful, but the American West, that is something else," said Schobert. "That's an awesome area. Mountains are bigger, valleys are vaster, there are a lot of rivers and waterfalls because it's so big out there. There's a lot more of it that's been untouched and protected already. It's about keeping it in its natural state. The beauty of it, you just have to go to it and experience it."
Cause: JaydenStrong and Autism Speaks
On a late fall day, the scoreboard at Heinz Field on Friday afternoon shared a special message.
'The Pittsburgh Steelers welcome Jayden White.'
White, a 12-year-old from LaGrange, Indiana, is battling cancer.
And he had a dream. To see the Steelers play.
The Steelers made sure his dream came true.
White was at Heinz Field when the Steelers and Broncos played and got his tickets from Benny Snell and Robert Spillane while touring Heinz Field.
The players gave him a box full of Steelers goodies, making sure he had something to wear to the game. They posed for pictures, signed autographs, and White even played catch with them, and signed a t-shirt he gave to the players.
"It made me feel like a VIP," said White. "It made me feel really special."
It also made Snell feel so special that he is honoring White with his cleats on Sunday.
His cleats will have two messages, with Warrior 'JaydenStrong' on one side, and Autism Speaks on the other.
It's all to honor a young boy who lit up their world with his smile and joy.
"This is awesome," said White during the visit. "This is awesome. This is awesome.
"I was really surprised. I wasn't expecting a signed football and all this. I had a lot of fun. I really liked throwing the ball back and forth, that was really cool, and just hanging out."
Cause: Steel Smiling
For Trai Turner, talking about mental health is something positive. Because he knows the right mindset can make all of the difference in the world.
That is why he has chosen Steel Smiling as the organization he is representing with his cleats. Steel Smiling, a Pittsburgh-based organization, bridges the gap between Black people and mental health support through education, advocacy and awareness. Their goal over 10 years is to connect every Black person in Allegheny County to a positive mental health experience that improves their quality of life.
"I just think mental health is important just in general," said Turner. "A lot of times for yourself, but also for the people around you. A lot of times we get caught up with whatever we have going on and we forget to look out for other people and whatever. I think it's important that you have your own mental health awareness and make sure that you are alright and bring some happiness and joy to other people."
Turner has an approach that not everyone does, one that helps him deal with the daily challenges he faces on the field and off.
"A lot of times people look at mental health as a bad thing," said Turner. "It doesn't have to be a bad thing. Mental health is a challenge day-to-day, every hour. Just being a light throughout the day helps. Smiling. Being upbeat can help someone else. It's bigger than a doctor giving you a diagnosis. It's being around good energy, good people, people of substance."
If there is someone who brings that good energy to the team, it's definitely Turner. He has an approach that he hopes helps his teammates and others.
"You want to make sure the morale is up," said Turner. "As you deal with the ebb and the flow of the season, you can get caught up in lows, you can get caught up in the highs also. I think it's important to stay even keeled. I think it's important to stay positive and optimistic, whether things are good or bad. I try to do that every day. I wake up with an attitude of gratitude every day and take on that day as best as possible. I try to stay even keeled and keep a smile on my face.
"Your mental health on a day-to-day basis is so important. Sometimes we lose sight of what is happening now. We don't think about the present. We think about what is forthcoming. It's important to take it day-to-day, put out the right energy. That is mental health. Waking up with a positive mindset, a good attitude in general.
"When you have been doing this for a long time, you become grateful. It's about attitude. If I have the right mental state, that is the majority of the battle. Sometimes it's taxing, you have to keep working on it."
Cause: UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh
When it comes to the kids at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, linebacker T.J. Watt has a soft spot.
There is nothing that brings him more joy than putting smiles on the kid's faces, something he loves as much as sacking opposing quarterbacks.
On Sunday he will represent the kids at the hospital with his cleats, continuing his on-going support of the patients and families who are treated there.
Watt recently helped launched a limited-edition knit hat, done in conjunction with him and New Era Cap Co., Inc. to benefit the hospital's Free Care Fund, which helps to cover the cost of free and uncompensated care for children whose families can't afford it. He visited some of the patients at UPMC Children's Hospital Foundation headquarters to deliver hats recently, and just spent time picking up their spirits.
"I have worked with Children's Hospital for a couple of years now," said Watt. "I just wanted to find a way to connect. To be able to collaborate with Children's Hospital here in Pittsburgh and make a beanie that is Pittsburgh Steelers based was really a one-of-a-kind unique experience that I am happy to be a part of."
It's just another way Watt has found to connect with the kids at the hospital, who he knows are going through tough times, especially at the holidays.
"I love just trying to brighten kid's days," said Watt. "They are going through so much. The families are going through so much. I might not think I am a special guy to say hello to, but it might be different for kids who are going through their own battles and these families as well. Anything we can do to brighten their day, whether it's delivering a beanie, saying hello, sending a video, it's such a game-changer."
Cause: Children's Mental Health Network
It's a frightening stat. One in five children, 20%, suffer from a mental health or learning disorder.
And that is one of the many reasons defensive end Chris Wormley has selected the Children’s Mental Health Network to support with his cleats.
Wormley had been an advocate for mental health awareness, especially among children. He previously took part in a mental health panel discussion in conjunction with Pittsburgh Public Schools, joining other current or former athletes and local educators to discuss mental health issues that have faced them, while answering questions from students to help them deal with the daily issues they have to combat.
Last year Wormley took part in a muscle and mind fit challenge while he, and all of the country, were dealing with quarantine due to the pandemic. He said like everyone else, he had struggles during that time and he shared some of those struggles and the positives of how he coped with it via Instagram.
"For me, I think mental health is a combination of everything, especially when I apply it to my job and football," said Wormley. "It's physical, it's mental, it's my emotional well-being. For me that changes on a day-to-day basis. I have to take a moment to myself in the morning or at night to rethink it and calculate how my day went, how my mental health is for that day. Mental health changes from day-to-day, whether you have a more stressed day or laid-back day. Overall, it's how is my well-being.
"It might be the most important thing you can try to work on. If you are not mentally well, it can affect everything else in your life. Being able to talk about it more. Mental health was not something I liked to talk about until my wife pressed me a little bit, trying to talk more about it with me. It kind of opened me up a little bit. I was more guarded with my feelings. She would ask how I was feeling, and I would just say I am good. I would just give the easy answer instead of giving some thought to it and thinking how I do feel on a day-to-day basis. You have to normalize talking about it and feel comfortable discussing these topics."
Mental health issues can be triggered by many things, including stress. That happened for Wormley multiple times, including in college when he was injured his freshman year at Michigan and had what he loved most taken away from him missing playing time. He also dealt with it when his football career was in flux. When the 2020 season ended, he knew he was about to become an unrestricted free agent and he wasn't certain the Steelers were going to bring him back, leaving him with concerns about stability for his family and so forth.
"It was a three-month process of a waiting game," said Wormley. "I really didn't think I was going to be back. Just that stress of the unknown. I didn't know where I was going to be, if I was going to play football with the Steelers again, having to uproot family and move. Signing back was a relief and took stress not just off my shoulders, but my wife's shoulders."