A day before the Seahawks host the Miami Dolphins in their season-opener, there will be a different kind of football being played at CenturyLink Field, and anyone willing to do a little fundraising can play on the very field the Seahawks call home.
But before we get into the details of how Seahawks fans or anyone else can test their football skills in an NFL stadium, it's important to understand why a flag football tournament benefiting the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America is a worthy cause. And this is where the story of a rock star—sorry, there's no delicate way to put this—pooping his pants on stage comes into play.
Crohn's, a chronic inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, and ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease of the large intestine, can be painful, debilitating, and yes, sometimes very unpleasant diseases. More than 1.6 million Americans suffer from Crohn's and colitis, but plenty of them are hesitant to open up about a disease that can cause them to feel embarrassed or ashamed. For years, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready fell into that category of Crohn's patient. He was diagnosed in his early 20s and at the time he felt like he was alone in his struggle. It took him years to open up about, but since he has, McCready has become a big advocate for those battling Crohn's and colitis.
"It completely opened up my world to actually talk about it," McCready said while attending a recent Seahawks practice. "It made me not as embarrassed about things. I've had accidents all over the world, which means I've (expletive) myself on stage, or getting on a ferry in Seattle, or in New Zealand where it happened in front of 50,000 people, or anywhere in the world. To be able to talk about it and go, 'Yeah, that happened, and it's no big deal and I just move on,' I couldn't do that 10 years ago. I would be ashamed, I wouldn't tell anybody. Nobody understood what I was going through."
This year's flag football tournament, one of eight around the country at NFL stadiums, has raised more than $105,000 to date, and that number will go up as more teams and individuals register (you can do so here). The tournament raised nearly $250,000 the previous two years. And while that money will help with treatment and perhaps someday a cure, the awareness raised every time a rock star talks about the embarrassing moments Crohn's has caused, or when a teenage swimmer named Kathleen Baker opens up about her battle with Crohn's, then wins a silver medal in Rio, that also makes a big difference.
"People are starting to understand it a little bit more," McCready said. "The main thing is that if you have people who love you and you have people who are supportive, that's a super important thing for kids and for any kind of Crohn's or colitis patient, so it's very important to shed light on this. That's where the healing is, along with medications and all of that. Talking about something like this makes it less of a taboo.
"It's very personal and there needs to be more and more and more awareness. I came out and started talking about it 14 years ago. There seems to be more awareness as I've been part of it, or as (Baker) wins a silver medal, or as athletes have talked about it. It's just an embarrassing, hard disease to have. The problem with not talking about is that you get caught in this thing where you have a lot of shame and you're embarrassed. So it's very important to raise awareness, especially for kids who have it. That's where I'm at. My wife Ashley and I have started a camp called Camp Oasis, where 100-plus kids get to go to this camp every year… They go there for a week and they get to relate to each other and have fun and be kids. When you have this disease it's very isolating, it's very shameful, it's very sad. When you can make fun of it or put light on it, there's healing in that. Shedding light on this, making fun of it, knowing this disease is not me—it's something I deal with, but it doesn't define me."
As for the flag football tournament, which is the brainchild of Chris Adams, a friend of McCready's and a member of the board of trustees for the Northwest chapter of CCFA, teams and individuals wishing to participate can register here.
For fans wishing to attend, tickets are free, but registration is required. The day will include activities such as a 40-yard dash on the field for kids, field goal attempts for $10, stadium tours and a silent auction and raffle.
The flag football tournament, now in its third year, features national and local celebrities, including Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and ESPN's Kenny Mayne, who have helped team Pearl Jam to back-to-back titles.
McCready will be there, though he's not sure yet if he will play—touring with Pearl Jam takes its toll on a 50-year-old body, he explains—but he's expecting big things again from his bandmate.
"Jeff Ament played last year, and he was a star quarterback in high school in Havre, (Montana) he's really good," McCready said. "He's calling plays, he's serious when he plays."
And even for rock stars who have played in packed arenas and stadiums around the world, playing on an NFL field is something special.
"I felt like a 10-year-old kid again," McCready said of playing at CenturyLink Field the last two years. "It feels like growing up when I first discovered football and being excited about Larry Csonka, and later Jim Zorn and Steve Largent and all of that. It's an iconic thing as a kid growing up here. So getting to be out on that field, it's a hallowed ground in a way. I look at it reverentially."
On the morning before the Seahawks NFC Divisional playoff game against the Panthers, on a Blue Friday no less, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready raises the 12 Flag atop Seattle's Space Needle.