A HOLIDAY-SEASON SALUTE TO MEN WHO “WALK THE WALK”
Cheers and thank you to the hundreds of NFL players leading with their hearts.
by Alexis Glick
As the CEO of a youth-wellness nonprofit that counts among its founding partners the National Football League, I have the good fortune of getting to know not just League executives and Team personnel, but countless NFL players who work with us. They join us on the front lines of empowering youth around better nutrition and more physical activity in schools all across America everyday.
A key element of our flagship program, Fuel Up to Play 60 — now in 73,000 schools that enroll 38 million students — is the active involvement of those players. I’m talking about both current and “alumni” players, from the 32 club teams in the NFL.
The value of the excitement and pro-sports glamour that they bring to the program, and to our kids, is incalculable. But far more moving to me is the sheer commitment that these men put forth in service to youth. Even now, in the 10th year of this fantastic initiative, the generosity of NFL players never ceases to amaze me.
On behalf of Fuel Up to Play 60 and its Spanish-language twin Fuel Up to Play 60 en Español, our organization hosts about 600 events a year nationwide, in partnership with all 32 clubs and the League.
As a crucial part of those events, literally hundreds of NFL players annually step into school buildings with us. They inspire. They mentor. They instruct. They do ribbon-cuttings. They sign autographs. They lead by example. They tell their stories to rapt audiences of middle- and high-schoolers. They play flag football. And they join-in at school breakfast or lunch sitting side-by-side with students.
But most of all, for our kids they serve as the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the health and high achievement that goes with good nutrition and daily physical activity. This is crucially important in an era in which 1 in 6 American children is food-insecure, and in which the crisis of physical inactivity in America is a contributor to the epidemic of childhood obesity and its resulting health problems.
To our kids, these men are not heroes — they’re superheroes!
Many NFL fans are familiar with the League’s three-year-old “My Cause, My Cleats” program in which players adopt causes that are personally meaningful to them, and then wear specially designed custom cleats promoting the worthy nonprofit organization that they support.
Through this initiative, players publicize and support hundreds of charitable groups, and I’m thankful to all of them. But I’m particularly grateful to the ones who choose Fuel Up to Play 60, and its mission of youth empowerment in helping create cultures of wellness in the school environment and healthier school communities.
I’m talking about selfless guys like Linebacker Jerome Baker of the Miami Dolphins. Running Back Matt Breida of the San Francisco 49ers. Safety Nate Ebner of the New England Patriots. Running Back Dontrell Hilliard of the Cleveland Browns. Safety Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos. And a list of other players too numerous to name.
At this special time of year, it is these men who are nearest to my heart, as they willingly accept the daunting responsibility of role model. As they invest their time and energy in the next generation. As they set an example for both boys and girls, particularly those in high-needs schools. As they give awed students a chance to know “the men behind the helmets.” And, to echo the theme of our organization’s recent 2019 gala, as they “rise by lifting others.”
In an age of sports-media sensationalism, we hear far too much about the occasional NFL player who makes a mistake, crosses a line, or does something stupid. And far too little about “the heroes behind the helmets” who seek to do right by doing good in communities every single day. I applaud them this holiday season for their generosity of time and spirit, and I applaud the League for putting its best foot forward, and for caring as they do about this next generation.
My very best season’s greetings to them — and to you!
Alexis Glick is CEO of the national youth-wellness nonprofit GENYOUth.