There is far too often a dehumanization of the athletes we root for on television every week.
But players who make mistakes that you scream about and call awful names for a few minutes before getting back to your life actually have to put their head on their pillow and relive that moment.
And those jerseys you look to as an escape from reality for a few hours are actually going home and dealing with some of those same difficulties and problems you are.
It’s a particularly pronounced issue for football players, who are hidden from the world by helmets during the course of a game and discouraged from any displays of individuality on the field.
It’s one reason so many players have embraced the My Cause My Cleats program, which allows players a week to use their shoes to express support for an issue they care about. The program has a fundraising element, with an option to auction the shoes, and this year, donations will also be open for all of the causes.
‘Who we truly are’
It’s probably the type of thing that should happen more often, but we won’t nitpick for now.
“It’s good to let guys show things they really care about, and it gives our fans a chance to get a look at who we truly are and see us not just as athletes, but as actual human beings with causes we truly care about,” Raiders offensive tackle Justin Herron said. “Things that are affecting everyone else are also affecting us. Everyone is going through their own things, even us. I think it’s a great thing and something that should be continued.”
Herron is one of several players who will participate in the program Sunday when the Raiders host the Vikings. He will wear cleats representing The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
Herron’s cause is a deeply personal one. While he wanted to maintain his loved one’s privacy, Herron felt it was important to not only shed light on the cause, but to remind the person they are in his heart even when he’s on the field.
Several other players will wear cleats representing causes dear to them or their families.
Kicker Daniel Carlson has done a great deal of work with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a program that promotes volunteer advocacy for children who have experienced abuse or neglect.
It’s an effort he was introduced to by his wife, who developed a passion through her studies of social work and childhood education.
Starting guard Greg Van Roten and his wife have lost grandparents to Alzheimer’s-related illnesses, and he will wear shoes honoring The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
“It’s obviously something that hits close to home for us, and it’s something we support and want to bring to the broader public,” he said. “It’s great how (the league) makes a big deal out of it now. In the past, guys would try stuff and it was received with varying degrees of what’s allowed and what isn’t. So it’s cool to be able to one, express yourself, and two, promote a cause that is meaningful.”
Cancer affects all
The most popular cause remains the perpetual fight against cancer, which affects everyone. I’m certainly not alone in having a family that has been ravaged by the disease, an unfortunate bond that becomes all too apparent talking to players about how it has affected them.
Cornerback Amik Robertson will wear cancer awareness cleats, and center Andre James and running back Brandon Bolden will represent the American Cancer Society.
Robertson was emotional talking about the impact the disease has had in his rural Louisiana community, including taking his grandmother and great-grandmother. James’ father was diagnosed when he was at UCLA, and he hopes to spread appreciation and awareness about the great work he’s seen from the ACS.
Bolden’s story has been well-documented after he overcame skin cancer during his career. He has three other relatives who are also now cancer-free.
“We’re all in this fight together,” he said. “And I appreciate the league for allowing everyone to see we’re people first. We have things that we care about, and we’re more than just football.”
That’s perhaps the hidden benefit of this program: The humanization of the masked gladiators and maybe an important reminder for the next time you’re cursing a player’s life because your player prop didn’t hit.