Five Seahawks players, including defensive end Cliff Avril, wide receiver Doug Baldwin, tight end Jimmy Graham, cornerback Richard Sherman, and quarterback Russell Wilson will take part in the NFL's 'My Cause, My Cleats' campaign in Week 13, showing support for various causes, foundations, and charities by wearing customized cleats this weekend.
This story originally appeared in the December 2 edition of Hawk Mail. To subscribe to Hawk Mail, click here.
When the Seahawks line up for their Sunday Night Football game against the Carolina Panthers this week at Seattle's CenturyLink Field, the team's uniform will look — for the most part — as it has looked every other week the club has taken the field at home this season, with an all-blue appearance from head to toe.
But in Week 13 around the NFL, more than 500 players, including five from the Seahawks, will feature a special look on their footwear, as athletes receive a chance to share causes that are important to them through the League's My Cause, My Cleats campaign. The initiative allows players to customize their cleats to honor a charity, foundation, or organization of their choice in an effort to help raise awareness for each cause.
In Seattle, defensive end Cliff Avril, wide receiver Doug Baldwin, tight end Jimmy Graham, cornerback Richard Sherman, and quarterback Russell Wilson all chose to participate, personalizing their footwear to help tell their stories. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, meanwhile, will also get involved, lacing up his signature all-white 'Air Monarchs' with black shoelaces to raise awareness for gang prevention, which aligns closely with the work he does through A Better Seattle and A Better L.A.
"One of the great NFL traditions is how our players passionately support important causes in their communities and around the globe every year," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "They are incredibly creative by nature so we are not surprised how they are seizing the opportunity this week with inspiring expressions of their charitable commitments on their cleats, online and through social media."
Before Sunday's game kicks off, let's take a look at what Seattle's players came up with through the My Cause, My Cleats campaign:
CLIFF AVRIL: The Cliff Avril Family Foundation
Each of Cliff Avril's My Cause, My Cleats causes hits close to home. The Seattle defensive end started his own foundation in 2014 after losing his grandmother to diabetes and learning of his mother's diabetes diagnosis. It was then when he realized the importance of educating today's youth about healthy living through nutrition and exercise, launching The Cliff Avril Family Foundation to raise awareness for Type 2 diabetes. Being of Haitian descent, Avril has also championed efforts in his native land through his foundation, rebuilding and opening an elementary school in the country this past summer with the help of Seahawks Legend Marshawn Lynch, and in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, Avril pledged to fund a new home in the region for every sack he records this season.
"Diabetes is prevalent in the Haitian community, but everyone from my mom to my aunties has it, so that's kind of why it plays a big part, and then I took it to juvenile diabetes once I started having my kids," the father-of-two Avril, whose 10.0 sacks rank tied for second in the NFL, said of his My Cause, My Cleats efforts. "Then also, Haiti is where it all started for me. Giving back in the way of education I think is very important because I feel like education is the key to keeping them on the right track."
Avril's cleats mimic the look of Haiti's flag, adding the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and Cliff Avril Family Foundation logos on each side.
"It has my foundation logo on there and it has JDRF on there as well, so I think those are two cool points," he said, adding, "I think the biggest thing for me is just bringing awareness for some of the stuff I'm doing in Haiti. I support their education system building a school out there and on top of that doing sacks for homes, so all that plays a factor into what the shoe means."
DOUG BALDWIN: Southern Youth Sports Association
If you've been following Doug Baldwin's recent charitable exploits in the e-sports world, you may already recognize the name of the organization the Seahawks wide receiver will be supporting on the football field this weekend.
The Southern Youth Sports Association, located in Baldwin's home state of Florida, is who Baldwin's playing for in the Madden Xbox NFL Player Charity Challenge, a competition that could bring SYSA $51,000 should Baldwin win the tournament's championship round against the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald on Tuesday, December 6. But regardless of the outcome of that online matchup, Baldwin hopes to raise more funds and awareness for SYSA by wearing his customized cleats this weekend for an organization that impacted him at the early age of six years old.
"Basically they dedicate their time to inner-city youth, to youth of all kinds, trying to give them a different avenue in terms of sports, in terms of academics, and just serving the community the best way that they know how to," Baldwin said. "It's been a tremendous help to me on my path to the NFL and where I'm at now as a man as well, so I'm playing for them, and hopefully raise some funds for them."
Baldwin's kicks are sure to stand out from his Seahawks teammates on Sunday, when the club's leading receiver will sport all-orange cleats with black tiger stripes on the sides, and black paw prints underneath.
"It goes back to my little league football days," Baldwin explained of the shoe's design.
And during those little league football days, Baldwin said SYSA taught him about discipline "more than anything."
"Any time a report card came out, or a midterm report came out we had to bring it to them, and if it wasn't up to the standards then we couldn't play," Baldwin recalled. "We'd have consequences out at practice. It was a family atmosphere, but we were all held accountable and all held responsible. It was like if I had five coaches, I had five additional fathers out there that were looking after me, making sure I was doing the right thing and constantly staying on me and talking to me and communicating with me asking me how I was doing in school, how is life in general. That was the biggest thing, was that they taught me discipline. It was never easy. They never made it easy. They always made it difficult, but it was in a sense for us to overcome obstacles and be better men.
"There's a huge opportunity for that organization to continue to do what it's doing in the community," he added. "And I want to be a part of that."
JIMMY GRAHAM: Angel Flight Soars
Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham — a certified pilot who spends much of his spare time flying planes in the Pacific Northwest — has been working with Angel Flight Soars for the past couple years. The foundation, headquartered in the southeast region of the United States, uses volunteer pilots to arrange free air transportation to people who need to travel to receive lifesaving medical treatment. Graham has worked as one of the program's volunteer pilots and has used one of his own planes — a Beechcraft Bonanza G36 — to transport patients to receive a service they desperately need.
"To be able to help them out and provide that service, to get them up in a small plane as well and to share those moments with them, getting them to something that they truly need, it's an unbelievable feeling," Graham said. "It takes my passion for flying and allows me to help people who really need it. It turns my true love and my hobby into something that helps others, which when you can combine those two things it's just the perfect situation."
Appropriately so, Graham's cleats feature an all-black look with a set of white angel wings on the side.
"The wings were my idea," he said. "Adidas did a great job with helping me do that. This is one of the first times where I've had a lot of input because of the opportunity to be able to do this and I wanted it done right. They did a great job and it looks really cool.
"Going out there with some angel wings running around, hopefully I can jump over a couple people and really show them off."
This offseason, Graham said he plans to continue his Angel Flight Soars work in the Seattle-area, aiming to venture as far as Alaska to provide transportation for patients in need.
"Usually people don't know it's me until I show up, so that's always a treat, and I always have something for them," Graham said of his Angel Flight Soars stints. "… But really it's the time and the moments in the plane that really matter. That's why I think it's such a good charity and organization and way to give back because anyone can give money, but when you have to sit there and map out flight plans and give your time, I feel like that takes even more.
"I think you get a lot more out of it than you give," he added. "Just the feeling and the smiles from these kids, being able to be in a small plane for the first time, or being able to get this ride to this life-changing experience, it's an unbelievable feeling."
RICHARD SHERMAN: Blanket Coverage, The Richard Sherman Family Foundation
Growing up in Compton, California, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman saw first-hand how important education was to inner-city communities. When NBA star Magic Johnson — Sherman's childhood idol — visited Compton's Dominguez High School, where Sherman went to school, the Los Angeles Lakers point guard's message about the importance of setting and achieving goals resonated with Sherman, who has since made it his focus to help students reach their full potential. He founded Blanket Coverage, the Richard Sherman Family Foundation in 2013 to provide students in low-income communities with school supplies, clothing, and the resources they need to succeed.
"I think education is one of the most important things that a kid can get," said Sherman, a Stanford graduate. "A great education, a chance to further their education and get the opportunities at jobs — it's hard to get a job without at least a bachelor's [degree] nowadays — so to get a kid excited about school and not worried about where their pens and pencils and backpacks, things like that, necessities for school, are going to come from is a real relief because not every parent can afford to provide them with everything they need for various reasons.
"But every kid deserves that. I've always felt that way since I was a kid and that's why I feel like it's my obligation to give them what they need."
Sherman's My Cause, My Cleats cleats may look the most familiar of the bunch, but they feature one noteworthy addition.
"It's mostly my normal cleat and they put my foundation logo, which is my logo, on the outside of the cleat," he said. "Which is really cool."
Since its launch three years ago, Sherman's Blanket Coverage foundation has put on events ranging from a celebrity softball game at Seattle's Safeco Field that's brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, to simply making people happy around the holidays.
"We've helped a ton of people through them just reaching out and saying they needed it, their kids needed it," Sherman said. "We're always happy to help."
RUSSELL WILSON: Why Not You Foundation
The Why Not You Foundation Russell Wilson undertook in 2014 has supported a bevy of charitable causes since its inception. Named after the way Wilson's late father, Harrison Wilson, challenged him in his approach to life with a "why not you" attitude growing up, the Seahawks quarterback has advocated for and financially supported causes like the Strong Against Cancer initiative, teaming with NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne's foundation to donate more than $1 million to battle childhood cancer. He's also worked with the National Domestic Violence Hotline to Pass the Peace and even started his own clothing line earlier this year, Good Man Brand, where a portion of the proceeds go back to Wilson's foundation, which in turn uses it to work with Friends of the Children, a youth mentoring program.
"The mission of the Why Not You foundation is to empower change one individual at a time, one kid at a time," Wilson said. "Ultimately we want to be able to affect the world, and it starts with our own communities, our own cities, our own loved ones, our own friends and co-workers and all that. But if we can change one soul, hopefully that one soul, that one person that we change can change one other one and make it a snowball effect. That's our mission and that's always been our focus with the Why Not You Foundation."
Wilson's cleats will have a worldly look this weekend. The Seattle signal caller will lace up a pair of white, blue, and green Nike shoes featuring the Why Not You Foundation logo on the side, a large globe on each toe, and a set of compasses underneath.
"On my cleat, it's pretty cool," Wilson said. "Obviously it says Why Not You Foundation, but there's a globe. There's a Western Hemisphere and an Eastern Hemisphere, and we want to do global change. That's the whole point of the Why Not You Foundation, we want to have an impact all over the world."
For those looking to get involved, or launch their own charitable efforts, Wilson, like his father before him, challenges others to first — to quote Michael Jackson — look at "the man in the mirror."
"I think first of all the best way to get involved is looking at yourself. … I think being able to look at the inner self and see how I can personally give back individually," he said. "If you want to get behind the cause, the Why Not You Foundation is ready and willing. We've been able to donate significant resources to affect change and help try to save people's lives. But I think even more importantly than that, I think it's actually the physical, precious time spent with people. I think that's really, really important. I think that's what we always want to be a part of."
Keep an eye on the NFL's Auction web page, as players will have the opportunity to raise funds for the cause of their choosing by auctioning their cleats off, with 100 percent of the proceeds donated to charities selected by players.