The NFL’s My Cause My Cleats 2023: Lacing Up for Awareness with Players’ Personal Stories 


During the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats initiative, passion and purpose collide on the field. This initiative embodies the profound bond between athletes and the causes that matter to them that transcends the game itself. Each touchdown becomes a tribute; every tackle signifies a stand against unseen adversaries. 

At first glance, rare disease, chronic illness, and football seem disconnected. Yet both sports and rare disease require resilience, persistence, and advocacy. We cheer for our community in our upswings and in our worst moments; the support is tangible, palpable, real. 

Beyond the roar of the football stadiums lies a realm inhabited by those battling conditions that defy the norm, yet their spirits remain indomitable. My Cause My Cleats, in which players wear customized cleats that raise funds and awareness for the causes closest to their hearts, serves as a rallying cry: a beacon illuminating the social issues and people who need support. 

Amidst this backdrop, players from across the NFL emerged as ambassadors of hope, sharing their personal connections with cancer, chronic illness, and rare disease. These players didn’t just lace up their cleats for a game. They stood as advocates, using their platform to propel awareness forward, shedding light on these often under-discussed conditions and causes. 

National Organization for Disorders of the Corpus Callosum 

To Detroit Lions offensive tackle (T) Dan Skipper, taking part in My Cause My Cleats is important because it offers the opportunity to highlight what is important to him off the field. The initiative uses the NFL’s platform—Sports Illustrated suggests that there are more than 184 million NFL fans—to highlight players’ passions, big and small, to fans. This year, Skipper chose to support the National Organization for Disorders of the Corpus Callosum (NODCC).

Barbara Fonseca, the Founder of the NODCC, shared: 

“We are very excited that Dan will be wearing cleats to raise awareness for disorders of the corpus callosum. The NODCC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for individuals with disorders of the corpus callosum, their families, and professionals. Disorders of the Corpus Callosum are abnormalities of brain structure and can only be diagnosed with a brain scan. When the corpus callosum does not develop (agenesis) or develops abnormally (dysgenesis), it cannot be repaired or replaced, but doctors are researching ways to improve the lives of those affected. Individuals with DCC may face challenges that cover a broad range of disabilities, many of which are not always visible. Educating the public about these diagnoses helps build acceptance and compassion, as families help their loved ones navigate life successfully. Since its founding in 2003, the NODCC has blossomed into a robust global gathering of research, community, and support – both remote and in person. The NODCC seeks to raise the profile, understanding and acceptance of DCCs through networking, advocacy, and research.”

The NODCC and its mission are extremely important to Skipper, especially after his family friends’ son was diagnosed with agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC). He explains that, prior to the diagnosis, the family had never heard of ACC – and the diagnosis came with many emotions and concerns about the future. However, he shares:

“They are the strongest people we know. Everything they’ve done for their son Lee has been so inspiring, so any way we can honor them and raise ACC awareness means a lot. These cleats are as much for their family as they are for Lee. Every single day, they give it their all: all the resources to help him succeed. Part of that was finding community, treatment plans, and advocacy through the NODCC Conference, because a lot of times, the best advocate a patient can have is family. I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through. But hopefully these cleats raise awareness about ACC. If I can raise awareness or money, or just bring a smile to Lee and his family—that’s my goal here. To Patient Worthy readers and families whose children have disorders of the corpus callosum, I also want to say that the hardships you experience every day trying to get your children the necessary resources doesn’t go unnoticed. Your efforts are appreciated.” 

While My Cause My Cleats has been a fantastic opportunity to raise ACC awareness, Skipper does not plan on stopping here. In the future, he plans to continue raising ACC awareness and funds for future research through fundraising initiatives and other endeavors.

Lymphoma Foundation

When it came to choosing his cause, Indianapolis Colts linebacker E.J. Speed immediately knew that he wanted to raise awareness in the realm of cancer. He shares:

“My brother passed away from leukemia and it was a detrimental time for our family. I wanted to participate in My Cause My Cleats because there are things happening in the world that are bigger than the game and should be recognized and noticed. I wanted to raise awareness for lymphoma to help anyone else who is going through this. Raising money for the foundations means everything because it can always make such a difference in the long run.”

Lymphoma broadly refers to cancers that form in the lymphatic system. It encompasses cancers like Hodgkin lymphoma or mantle cell lymphoma. By raising awareness and funds for organizations like the Lymphoma Foundation, chosen by Speed, or other organizations like the Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF), we can advance necessary research and understanding into lymphoma while simultaneously supporting those affected. Says Speed:

“My main focus is the Lymphoma Foundation–just helping anybody who ever went through the same thing I went through. Just being able to help means a lot to me. As football players, we have such a huge stage on Sundays and it’s the perfect opportunity to raise awareness and let people know that even though we wear the helmets, even though we’re in different spaces, we’re all going through the same things in life.”

March of Dimes

31 years ago, Baltimore Ravens long snapper Tyler Ott was born one month premature. He spent 10 days in the NICU out of concern for his lungs, which was extremely difficult for his parents. As he reflects on his early childhood and what he learned from his parents, Ott says:

“I was lucky enough to be healthy, and our family’s story is a success story. I’m a multi-sport athlete, went to Harvard, and have been in the NFL for nine years. This is what I want families to see. It must be devastating to not leave the hospital with your child–but being born premature doesn’t have to limit your child’s life, success, or happiness.”

When Ott was ten years old, his mother started working with the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization that is working to improve the health of all mothers and infants. Premature birth has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions including retinopathy of prematurity, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or hearing loss, as well as conditions like necrotizing enterocolitis. March of Dimes aims to close the health equity gap and end preventable preterm birth and infant death.

Soon after Ott’s mother began volunteering, so did he: helping at fundraising events, raising awareness, running fundraisers and other events with his football team in high school. By the time Ott was in college, he joined March of Dimes as a Board Member.

His time in the NFL has also been marked by awareness campaigns, both within and beyond the realm of My Cause My Cleats. He shares:

“In Seattle, I participated in Points 4 Preemies, a pledge where I raised money with every extra point. I would split the money between the Seattle March of Dimes and the Oklahoma March of Dimes; my mom is Executive Director in Oklahoma. Outside of Points 4 Preemies, I hold an annual fundraising team to support families in Oklahoma, as well as raise awareness in My Cause My Cleats. I’m not sure how many people realize how much March of Dimes does: developing respiratory surfectant, supporting hospitals and mothers, providing comfort items. If you’re not a NICU nurse or sponsored family, you might not hear about it. But this is such an important cause and if I can reach anybody with how amazing this organization is, then it’s worth it.”

Ott urges others to get involved by reaching out to their state or region’s local March of Dimes office. While fundraising is incredibly important, the organization relies on the power of volunteers to help donate, package, and provide supplies to local hospitals, run important events, and form connections within this community. And to those whose children are born prematurely, Ott has a reminder:

“Even if your child is premature or dealing with health issues, they are a blessing. Don’t get too low because there is so much to look forward to. Remember: the March of Dimes is there to help and support. If you go looking, there is help to be found.”

Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association aims to end Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia by accelerating global research, maximizing care and understanding, driving early detection, and finding new and meaningful ways to support those affected and their families. Indianapolis Colts’ Defensive End Tyquan Lewis has a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, which amplifies his desire to raise awareness. He explains:

“My great grandmother suffered from dementia. I chose the Alzheimer’s Association as my cause to spread the word about dementia and to let people know, if they’ve experienced it in their own life, that they are not alone. I’ve been around my great grandmother and others in nursing homes, which has made me a big advocate for Alzheimer’s disease.”

To Lewis, part of the importance of awareness is spreading the fact that dementia is beginning to affect people at younger ages – and that younger individuals are also more likely to have rarer forms of dementia. He notes:

“Dementia is happening at a more rapid pace at a younger age. Our brains eventually deteriorate either way, but hopefully most of us are blessed to not suffer from this. But if we do, I hope we get to the point where we can counter this condition. It would be nice to get a good grasp on research to identify how we can counterattack this. To the people who are suffering, I hope that we can get them the help that they need.”

Outside of My Cause My Cleats, Lewis makes an annual donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, as well as gets involved with various events. His mom sponsors a flag football charity event in his hometown each year, and he also brainstorms different ideas to raise funds for research and support. Lewis explains that these events are not just about raising money and benefits:

But you also want people to gain a different perspective on how grateful and blessed they are. I want to remind people to have empathy for others because people suffer all the time. Through My Cause My Cleats, I can send a message for the people who are suffering or have gone through troubles in their life to let them know they are not alone in their fight.”

Turner’s Heroes

During his sophomore year, Vanderbilt football player Turner Cockrell felt two lumps growing in his neck. He was diagnosed with melanoma. Despite undergoing treatment, the melanoma was unfortunately fatal. Turner’s friends and family came together to found Turner’s Heroes, a registered 501(c)(3) organization that aims to empower pediatric cancer patients and fundraise for pediatric cancer research.

Indianapolis Colts Defensive End Dayo Odeyingbo played football with Turner in college. Odeyingbo explains that he chose Turner’s Heroes as his cause because:

“Turner was my teammate and he passed away about five years ago from cancer. I feel like it’s important to honor his legacy and support kids who are going through tough times. I’m thankful that My Cause My Cleats offers an opportunity to highlight the causes that we hold special to us, whether those are personal or just something we believe in. Fans can connect with players’ causes and find something that they believe in or that they may not have known about. I hope that this encourages people to give their own volunteer hours, donate in some way, or just support the cause in whatever fashion makes sense to them. That’s why this is important: to shed a light on cancer and bring more attention to it from the fan base.”

Every year, Vanderbilt dedicates one day to Turner’s Heroes for fundraising and awareness. While he was still at Vanderbilt, Odeyingbo participated whenever he could. He now does his best to continue raising awareness through donations and support, during and outside of My Cause My Cleats.

Other Rare, Chronic, and Oncologic Causes 

Outside of the players listed above, there are a number of other players in the NFL who chose to support rare, chronic, or oncologic causes in 2023. We wanted to give a shout out to some of these players and causes, including:

For a full list of players and causes, head to My Cause My Cleats.

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.

Share this post

Follow us