Stepping up for their cause

When the Steelers take the field on Sunday against the New England Patriots, there will be a lot of passion on display, as is always the case when these two teams meet.

But the passion won’t just be about the game.

For the third year the NFL is allowing players to represent a charity that they are passionate about in a unique manner with the league’s player cause initiative, My Cause, My Cleats.

The initiative was created for NFL players to showcase a charitable cause that is meaningful to them. Players took part in helping to design their own cleats, with the NFL giving final approval.

The list of Steelers’ players schedule to take part includes Ola Adeniyi, Zach Banner, Jordan Berry, Antonio Brown, Joshua Dobbs, Bud Dupree, Terrell Edmunds, Joe Haden, Cameron Heyward, Jesse James, Tyler Matakevich, Vance McDonald, Roosevelt Nix, Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Stephon Tuitt.

During Week's 13-15 of the 2018 NFL season, Steelers players are showcasing their chosen charitable cause on their game cleats

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When he heard the news in college, Ola Adeniyi was surprised. It certainly wasn’t what he expected. That he had the sickle cell trait.

“I never knew about it,” said Adeniyi. “I am the first in my family to play football and that is how I found out. When I first found out I was like, ‘Whoa.’ When they first told me, I thought I had the whole thing, the whole disease. I just have the trait. I am a carrier. You have to make sure you are safe because you don’t want your child to get it.”

Adeniyi is wearing his cleats to support sickle cell, something that means a lot to him because he wants to bring awareness to others who might be in the dark about it like he once was.

“I had friends who lost family members to it,” said Adeniyi. “I didn’t know the importance of it until I got to college and found out I had it. That is why I am supporting it.

“I have the trait. Everybody has different levels of it. If you take care of your body, that is one of the keys, especially playing football.

“You have to be aware. It’s something you should know. You have to be cautious choosing your partner. You don’t want your children to have it. The chance of living past a certain age is hard. When I realized I had it, it made me more aware. You just have to pay attention and be aware of it.”

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Zach Banner’s eyes lit up when he started to talk about his cause, something he takes deep pride in.

Banner is supporting his own foundation with his cleats, the B3 Foundation which benefits three areas that have deep meaning to Banner – Tacoma, Washington, Guam, and Los Angeles. Banner was born in Guam, raised in Tacoma and played at USC.

“They are the three locations that are part of my life,” said Banner. We focus on being together, building together, and belonging together. Those the ‘3 Bs.’ We want to focus on character building. We want to focus not only on low income families, that is the big focus, but also building the kids in the communities, teaching them how to be leaders and focusing on teaching character traits and skills they can carry on in life and uplift those around them.”

This year’s shoes will honor Tacoma, where he grew up and helped in the efforts of building a community center in his East Tacoma neighborhood.

“It’s a community center for Metro Parks and the Boys & Girls Club,” said Banner. “It will be the first community center they have had since it closed when I was a kid. Since then we have had a lot of violence, drugs, gang activity around the kids. It’s time to uplift them.

“I take a lot of pride in taking responsibility for communities I am from. I want to inspire them. To dedicate a game, cleats to them, it’s for them. I hope it inspires them.”

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Jordan Berry’s cleats will support Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that is working to stop human trafficking.

Representatives from the organization visited Steelers training camp this summer, and spoke to the players about what they do and the global problem that exists, as well as the issues right here in the United States.

“This is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises on the planet,” said Tim Ballard, founder of O.U.R. “There are millions of children forced into the commercial sex trade here in the U.S. and outside. We utilize every mechanism possible to infiltrate these places where children are being sold.

“The response from the team has been overwhelming. They are on board and it’s inspiring to see. We hope this brings a furthering of the movement. That more people get involved, more people rise up. We want the whole world to rise up and say we won’t let kids be forced into slavery anymore.”

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Antonio Brown’s cleats are supporting his own foundation, Live Your Vision, an effort to bring attention to the work they are doing there.

Brown has given away 800 backpacks, filled with school supplies, to students in Pittsburgh Public Schools, as well as working on a football camp for youth and helping those at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

“It’s extremely important to do right now, especially in the time we are living in, to reach out to others,” said Brown. “I want to make a difference, give back, and do something positive and productive and encourage those in the community.

“I just want to make an impact. We play this game, but life is about the impact we make on others and giving them the opportunity to live their vision, what they believe in. That is my vision.”

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Joshua Dobbs’ face lit up when talking about the organization he is supporting with his cleats.

It might not be your typical one for an NFL player to support, but if you know Dobbs it comes as no surprise.

Dobbs is supporting Girls Inc., 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 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. “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, 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.”

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Bud Dupree will be wearing cleats to support the Shriners Hospital for Children. The hospital has a mission to provide the highest quality care to children with neuro-musculoskeletal conditions, burn injuries and other special healthcare needs within a compassionate, family-centered and collaborative care environment. Their mission is carried out without regard to the ability of a patient or family to pay, which is why awareness and fund-raising is so important to them.

“We can use our platform to bring awareness to any cause we choose,” said Dupree. “It’s great for guys to show what they are passionate about.

“I wanted to do something that can make an impact. They are in need there and if it can benefit them, that is important. I want to make sure the kids get help, and do whatever I can do uplift their spirits, and just help in any manner.”

* * *

Terrell Edmunds story is one many know, one of three Edmunds brothers to be currently be in the NFL. His older brother Trey is on the Steelers practice squad and younger brother Tremaine plays for the Buffalo Bills.

What many likely don’t know, is Edmunds family reaches far beyond that.

His parents, Felecia and Ferrell Edmunds, are foster parents, giving a home and safe haven to about 25 kids. And because of that Edmunds’ cleats will represent foster care, something near and dear to his heart.

“Ever since I was young my parents had foster children who came through our house,” said Edmunds. “Just seeing how much being around a family can help means so much. Some people don’t have mom or dad, some don’t have a brother or sister. Some feel like they are out there and nobody cares for them. Just seeing the transition from once they come to when they leave our house is amazing to me. The joyful moments we have.

“It taught me to look at everything in a bigger picture. Even though someone comes from a different background, all they need is a little love. We have some that went to college, some have jobs to better their lives.”

Edmunds said his parent’s doing this is an inspiration to him and something he would like to continue himself when the time is right.

“We have some still at the house now, they come to games,” said Edmunds. “My parents are never bored. It’s a blessing we have the opportunity to do that. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to do it some time.”

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Cameron Heyward’s cleats will represent Sports Matter, a program through DICK’s Sporting Goods Foundation that helps fund youth sports programs.

Funding for youth sports programs has been cut in recent years, leaving students unable to play. The “Sports Matter” program helps fund youth sports, because sports builds character, increases confidence and motivates kids to stay in school and aim for higher education.

Heyward understands the importance of youth sports and the difference it can make in kid’s lives.

“It helps health wise,” said Heyward. “I think people learn how to be a part of a team. I think there are so many things people can learn from sports, it can help mold the youth today. I am lucky enough to be a part of that.

“You learn how to be a team player. How to be unselfish. Understanding that work beats talent every day. Knowing you can grow. If you continue to work you will grow and be rewarded for it.”

Heyward said he hopes his kids one day play sports, not to carry on his tradition but a life lesson and for their health.

“It’s not necessarily football I would want my son to play, but whatever sport my kids want to play it’s a good way to get your kids involved in so much, show them so much,” said Heyward. “They will learn to appreciate so many different things. There are so many life lessons you can learn from sports.”

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For Joe Haden, his cleats are personal. Extremely personal.

He is supporting Special Olympics in support of his brother, Jacob Haden, who is five years younger than him and a Special Olympian. The younger Haden has a cognitive disorder which affects his ability to speak and communicate verbally.

“I think it’s really good to be able to do something like this,” said Haden, who is the Global Ambassador for Special Olympics. “You have a lot of people in the league that have a lot of stuff going on at home with their families, things they care a lot about, that mean a lot to them. For the league to let us do this is special. I am a guy that likes to wear different color cleats and they always fine you. Now when they let you get a cause out, something that means so much to you, it’s special.”

Jacob Haden calls his older brother Joe his ‘1,’ because he is the oldest sibling. And Joe takes that to heart, protecting his younger brother at all costs, looking out for him, starting from the time when they were young.

On a normal summer day, the Haden boys were swimming at their aunt’s house. They all came in after a while, except for Jacob. They couldn’t find him. Joe, who was nine years old at the time, went outside and saw a shadow in the bottom of the pool. It was four-year old Jacob. He jumped in and saved him, his aunt performing CPR, and a helicopter eventually transporting him to the hospital.

“It was the scariest day of my life,” said Haden.

Jacob doesn’t let his condition hamper him, and it’s his passion that has led Joe to get more and more involved with Special Olympics.

“He is one of my best friends,” said Haden. “I have four younger brothers. Three play college football and he is a Special Olympian. He has always been doing it, bocce ball, track. We would always go to those events. My third or fourth year in the NFL I ended up becoming the Global Ambassador for Special Olympics. I would go to the regional games. It was a great time. They would have flag football, bocce ball, track, basketball. It was just so much fun to see how much joy we brought to those kids just to play the games.

“At the end of the day everybody got their ribbons and awards, but it wasn’t about that. It was about them having the opportunity to play.”

Haden’s eyes light up when he talks about Jacob. You can tell immediately how proud he is of him, how much he loves him, and how much he respects and admires the strength he has in dealing with his challenges.

“I am so happy for him, so proud of him,” said Haden. “Just for him to live his life the way he does, being so happy and proud. He has a speech delay so he can’t really talk. For him to be so happy, and have so much joy every day, it teaches me never take for granted what you have, just being able to talk, interact with people, being able to get people’s attention and for them to know what I am talking about.

“Sometimes talking to him I can’t understand what he is saying. I will be like Jacob what are you trying to say. That is when it gets to me the most. He never gets down, he will still be trying to let me know what he is trying to say, what he is talking about. It takes a big man to do that.

“When I am having a tough day, he makes life a lot easier.”

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Jesse James is supporting the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, which raises money for pediatric cancer.

“I did some stuff with the football team. We did as much as we could,” said James. “It was a good experience to be involved, especially with the Make-A-Wish kids. That is what was important to me, to shed more light on Penn State and what they do there for the community and the kids. That is what it’s all about, the kids in that area who are at Hershey Medical and have survived their cancer treatment or are going through it right now.”

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Tyler Matakevich had no intention of getting a puppy when he went to do a photo shoot for Show Your Softer Side, a public service campaign that was created to change the mindset of young people who ‘view the maiming and torturing of defenseless cats and dogs as a sign of toughness.’ The organization helps find homes for dogs and cats who are considered ‘rescue’ pets, those abandoned or taken from abusive situations.

As soon as the Labrador puppy sat on his lap, his softer side came out and he was a goner.

“It was like they set me up,” laughed Matakevich. “I had to take her home.”

Matakevich is wearing his cleats to support Show Your Softer Side, an organization he got involved with through the family of a former Temple University teammate. She asked him to do the photo shoot, and he was more than happy to oblige.

“I walked into the room and there were about five or six puppies, all black labs,” said Matakevich. “They gave me one. Within10 minutes she just fell asleep right in my arms. I was like, wow you set me up. I can’t give her back. That happened on a Friday, my girlfriend picked her up on Saturday and I had her on a Sunday.”

That was about a year and a half ago and now Bailey is part of Matakevich’s life, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Just being around them and realizing they don’t have a place to go,” said Matakevich. “I wish I would have taken them all. I donate now to their fundraisers. They keep me updated on everything they have going on. You just feel so good knowing you are helping a good cause and giving these dogs a good home. If I do it again, I won’t leave empty handed.”

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Vance McDonald is representing Convoy of Hope, an organization that helps the impoverished and suffering by distributing food, water, and supplies.

“Convoy of Hope truly is an organization dedicated to transforming lives across the world,” said McDonald. “From the founder and president through the last volunteer, each individual at Convoy has a heart of compassion and grace. From disaster relief to women's empowerment to feeding the hungry, this organization is committed to serving communities worldwide that need it the most.”

McDonald got involved with the organization when he was with the San Francisco 49ers. McDonald and teammates went to Haiti with the organization, helping those who were affected by the tragic earthquake. McDonald was so moved he stayed involved with the organization, helping those in the communities where he lives and works, as well as doing outreach with them to help victims of Hurricane Harvey earlier this year, as he is a Texas native.

“The world is a giant place,” said McDonald. “And as individuals, sometimes we get bogged down and feel as though we can't make a significant impact. Convoy of Hope helped change my perspective. As a partner of Convoy, I have seen hundreds of people's lives significantly impacted firsthand. Whether it's a pair of clothes, hours of my time spent volunteering, or money I dedicate annually to help feed hungry children, my efforts are making an impact thanks to Convoy of Hope.

“No one likes being hungry. No one enjoys not knowing where their next meal might come from. Hunger is the most basic human need. Without it, every area of an individual's life starts to collapse. Convoy of Hope is dedicated to helping feed these people who are stricken with poverty so that they can have every opportunity to be successful.”

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Roosevelt Nix is using his cleats to support a new endeavor, his foundation which he is officially launching on Sunday. The Rosie Nix Foundation is just getting going, but the one thing he wants to do is pay it forward.

“I have always wanted to give back, especially at home in Columbus, to the people who gave to me, especially when I wasn’t playing,” said Nix. “It started with my youth camp, and I wanted to start the foundation, so we can be available to anybody to help them out, that may just need that extra step whether it’s motivation, just helping them.

“The Rosie Nix Foundation is just a small scale pay it forward. I am kicking it off with paying it forward and giving back. When I post pics of the cleats that is going to be the opening of the foundation, the welcome to the world. It’s just a way of officially saying we are going to give back through the foundation.”

Nix understands the need to have that helping hand. Before he signed with the Steelers he was out of football for a short time. So he gets it.

“I do things in my hometown because when I wasn’t playing football a lot of people looked out for me,” said Nix. “When I wasn’t playing, people looked out for me. My trainer didn’t ask for anything from me, didn’t ask for money because he knew. That was his way of paying it forward. That is why I want to help. This is my way of paying it forward, helping individuals.”

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Maurkice Pouncey is keeping his cause close to him, supporting the Team Pouncey Foundation that he and his twin brother Mike are passionate about. The foundation does work in both players cities, but the majority of the work is done in their hometown of Lakeland, Florida.

“We love Lakeland so much,” said Pouncey. “We do things in other cities where we play. Lakeland is our home town. We love giving back to the kids there. We love seeing the changes we make. Smiles we put on families faces when we are there.”

The Pouncey brothers have provided more than $10 million of impact to at risk youth through grants and programs in Florida and have changed countless lives through their football camps with the children they have touched.

“We have been very lucky,” said Pouncey. “Our supporting cast there is awesome. They have always been on board with team Pouncey. My brother and I are always going to come back, even after football. We want to change lives, make a difference and let people live up to their dreams.”

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Ben Roethlisberger has a love for animals, a love he has passed on to his son, Benjamin. And it’s that love for animals that is shared by the entire Roethlisberger family that is the inspiration behind his cleats.

Roethlisberger is supporting the Pittsburgh Zoo and their endangered animals with his cleats, in particular the Amur Tiger and Amur Leopard.

“My kids love the zoo. We all love the zoo,” said Roethlisberger. “Benjamin has a fascination with tigers. We were at the holiday party the team hosts and he asked the balloon guy to make him a tiger.

“We were watching Animal Planet one night and I thought we should do something about endangered animals. We checked with the Pittsburgh Zoo and found out two of the ones they sponsor. They were high on the list and we decided to incorporate it.”

The more Roethlisberger learned about the two animals, the more he wanted to help. The Amur Leopard is considered critically endangered, while the Amur Tiger is extremely endangered.

“The numbers are staggering if you look at how many are left in nature,” said Roethlisberger. “It’s in the double digits. It’s forestry, people who want their furs, things like that. It’s about bringing awareness to something like this, where people are killing animals that are literally on the verge of extinction.”

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JuJu Smith-Schuster is representing the Call of Duty Endowment but doing it in a very personal manner.

Smith-Schuster is honoring Myron Ellis, a retired Marine Sergeant and Purple Heart recipient who lives in Beaver Falls.

“We only get one game out of the year to do this, so I said why not go big,” said Smith-Schuster during an ESPN feature. “I wanted it to be more personal, instead of saying it’s a veteran cleat. It’s Call of Duty. But it’s Call of Duty with something personal. Their story, their background.

“Without you I wouldn’t be able to play this game.”

Ellis served six tours of duty until his military career came to an end in 2011, not by his choice. While on foot patrol he stepped on an IED and suffered a broken ankle, fibula and tibia, requiring surgery.

“I was going to make it a career,” Ellis told ESPN. “Then after that surgery I went through a dark phase. If it wasn’t for my wife, I don’t know where I would be.”

The Call of Duty Endowment provides grants to the most efficient and effective organizations that prepare veterans to compete for high-quality jobs and get unemployed veterans back to work. The endowment’s goal is to get over 50,000 veterans back in the work force.

The endowment was created by Activision, which created the popular video game series Call of Duty, as a way to give back.

* * *

Stephon Tuitt is reaching a wide audience with his cleats, anyone whose life has been touched by mental health.

“I am supporting all of the organizations, all of the people,” said Tuitt. “People don’t realize mental health plays a huge role in people’s overall success and how they are in general, their interpretation of their role and how they do things. It plays a big role in kids’ lives too, their ability to know who they are instead of being influenced by other things.”

Tuitt said his goal is to bring awareness to something that so many are impacted by, many quietly dealing with it or not knowing where to turn, while others are able to seek the necessary guidance.

“The best thing I can do is bring awareness,” said Tuitt. “Mental health does play a huge role in lives. I think a lot of people are doing things to mask the problems they have. If they took time to self-reflect and understand why they are feeling the way they feel, and experience the healing process within, they would be a lot better.

“The way I grew up. Some of the things I have seen. I saw a lot of things growing up that I wouldn’t wish on other people. Football helped me, having people around me that were great mentors, overcoming a stigma that would be about myself. Mentally I thought it was just me. When you have positive people around you, you become your environment. I surrounded myself by those kinds of people, that made me stronger in categories I was weak in. That is why I am doing it for mental health.”

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