INTERVIEWS: NFL Players Discuss the Rare, Chronic, and Underserved Causes that Mean the Most to Them (Pt. 1)

From September to January each year, our home transforms; each Sunday, my boyfriend and I meticulously set up our living room, make snacks, and spend the day watching football on no less than three screens. Of course, we keep tabs throughout the week on Monday and Thursday: closely evaluating our Fantasy Football teams, trading details on player stats, and ordering (yet another) team sweatshirt from our favorite team. 

When we’re lucky enough to make it to a game, the atmosphere is unmatched. We are loud and exuberant and excited; together with the crowd, we are thrilled when games go well, and support each other when they don’t. Each fan around us is energized by this environment and, of course, we hope that the players are too. In short, we are a community, one tied together through love and unity, one which remains strong and steadfast despite our differences. 

When I first began writing this article, I wanted to center on My Cause My Cleats, an NFL initiative in which players reveal their passions beyond the game. Players pick a cause or passion that is meaningful to them; their custom cleats serve to raise awareness, and cleats can be auctioned off to provide even further support to these causes.

But as I wrote the article, I realized something: that the community support garnered by these players was much larger than Week 13. That many players live these passions in their day-to-day life, working to make a change off the field. And the story shifted. It became bigger than an annual initiative. It became an understanding of how that sense of community resonates far beyond the confines of the game.

So to continue raising awareness and sharing insights into these causes, Patient Worthy sat down with a number of players to highlight their commitment to community support. Through this article, you will hear from Green Bay Packers Cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles about his work with the Alzheimer’s Association; New York Jets Defensive Tackle Tanzel Smart and his wife Jada’s connection to the National Down Syndrome Society; Pittsburgh Steelers RB Benny Snell Jr.’s choice to support the 22 Oats Strong Foundation; Indianapolis Colts Defensive End Dayo Odeyingbo’s decision to support Turner’s Heroes; and more.

Green Bay Packers Cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles: Alzheimer’s Association

Throughout his entire life, Shemar Jean-Charles has felt a deep draw towards community service; to him, a community’s strength comes from its unity and inclusion. During his time at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, Jean-Charles decided to apply his service-oriented approach for impact. He shares:

I always liked the idea of working with a nonprofit organization, so I began seeking out and working with local nonprofits. My fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., also did a lot of community work and work around campus.

Fulfilled through this purpose, Jean-Charles decided to keep this service work going after he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2021. Once he arrived in Wisconsin, he began searching for an opportunity to get involved in. Interestingly, and to broaden his reach, Jean-Charles’ research centered around organizations and causes that he didn’t know much about – but hoped to learn more about. Eventually, his search connected him with Cari Josephson, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Director at the Wisconsin Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. He shares:

Cari and I have gotten really close and done many events together. I’d say it’s been going great so far. I really want to give her a lot of props. She’s the event coordinator and handles everything. I’ve been able to help fund some things, but she really gets the ball rolling.

Commitment to Care

Jean-Charles participated in the “GET one, GIVE one” blanket campaign which began in December 2021; for each $35 donation to his Walk to End Alzheimer’s team, donors would receive a special green and gold blanket, with another blanket donated to a senior care community. This initiative raised over $14,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association and over 300 blankets for seniors, some of which Jean-Charles helped deliver personally. He shares:

I had never been in a senior care center before, but I’ve been to multiple since working with the Alzheimer’s Association. It has been a great and eye-opening experience to see what these people are going through because so many people don’t really understand. The majority of people I’ve come across are the best people in the world: positive attitudes, big smiles, just a mutual love and desire and ability to build community. It has been so fun to put a smile on these seniors’ faces and so motivating to continue doing this work.

During the 2022 season, Jean-Charles pledged to donate $50 per tackle and $100 per interception to the Alzheimer’s Association – Wisconsin Chapter. He explains:

It’s great to know that every play matters, and I’ve been keeping that in the back of my head while playing.

If you’d like to contribute to Jean-Charles’ fundraising goals, you may donate here. Otherwise, we’re excited to see what ideas and ways Jean-Charles will make an impact in 2023. While he doesn’t want to give anything away just yet, he shares:

Coming into 2023, Cari and I have a lot of things cooking up and we’re just so excited to get started.

Alzheimer’s Disease: An Overview

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes brain cell death. As a result, those affected will experience significant memory loss and may be unable to carry out everyday tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is considered to be the most common form of dementia. However, there are subsets – such as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, occurring between 30-60 years old – which are considered rare. 

Currently, doctors are unsure of the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease. However, a combination of genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors are believed to play a role. Risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease include older age, a family history of this condition, past head trauma, poor sleeping and exercise patterns, and being female. Symptoms and complications related to Alzheimer’s disease can, but do not always, include:

  • Jumbled speech
  • Progressive memory loss
  • Changes in mood, behavior, and personality such as irritability, aggression, or apathy
  • Losing track of dates, location, or other previously-known information
  • Disorientation or forgetfulness
  • Problems with thinking, reasoning, decision-making, and planning or completing familiar tasks
  • Appetite loss 
  • Aspiration (complication)
  • Malnutrition and dehydration (complication)

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Medications may help with cognitive and memory issues, as well as overall management. For example, memantine and cholinesterase inhibitors are the most common therapies, especially for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

About the Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support, and research. Its mission is to end Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. The Alzheimer’s Association offers various research, support, and educational resources, as well as local chapters and opportunities for increased involvement. Learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association via its website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Youtube.

Los Angeles Chargers Offensive Tackle Storm Norton: Alzheimer’s Association

Los Angeles Chargers OT Storm Norton also chose the Alzheimer’s Association, which he explains is deeply personal to him due to his family connection. He shares:

It kind of hits home for me. A few summers back, I lost my grandma to Alzheimer’s disease. I just feel that it is only right to represent that in honor of her and all of those who have been affected, whether it’s directly through a family member or dealing with it themselves. It’s a serious disease and it is important to a lot of people.

At Patient Worthy, we appreciate Norton’s willingness to share his story and honor his connection with his grandmother, and to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease on the national stage. 

Join us in Part 2, where New York Jets Defensive Tackle Tanzel Smart and his wife Jada share their support for the National Down Syndrome Society; Indianapolis Colts Linebacker JoJo Domann also explains why he supports the Team Jack Foundation.

Then, in Part 3, Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Benny Snell Jr. will talk about the 22 Oats Strong Foundation, and Indianapolis Colts Defensive End Dayo Odeyingbo about Turner’s Heroes.

Finally, Part 4 will focus on Indianapolis Colts Running Back Deon Jackson’s connection to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and explain what led Colts Wide Receiver Ashton Dulin to raise awareness for the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation. 

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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