On Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, Colts players showed a lot of heart - on the field and on their feet - displaying causes near and dear to them for the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats.
“This is really a way for players to not only personalize their uniform and add a personal flare to it, but really do it in a meaningful way and do it in a way that tells a story and raises awareness and funds for important causes,” said Stephanie Pemberton, Vice President of Marketing for the Colts.
It was the third year for the NFL campaign, but the first year for its expanded platform.
For the third consecutive season, the NFL and its 32 clubs will celebrate the My Cause, My Cleats campaign, which gives players the opportunity to wear customized cleats to provide awareness and support for the charitable organization of their choice.
“It typically was a one-week window, so if you were on the road, your fans didn’t necessarily get to see the cleats in person,” Pemberton said. “So it’s now three weeks, which is more in line with what you see for Crucial Catch and Salute to Service, so we’re going to get to wear them in front of our home crowd for the first time this year and I think that is going to help to elevate those stories even more.”
Linebacker Matthew Adams wanted to support his four-legged friends while raising awareness for one breed in particular.
“I always had a dog growing up,” he said. “Big dogs, little dogs - man's best friend. I grew up around pit bulls and they get this bad image like they're violent dogs, but it's all about how you raise a dog.”
The organization he chose to recognize, Operation Sidekick, trains rescued pit bulls to be service dogs for veterans.
He’d love to have a pit bull, but his apartment building doesn’t allow the breed. So for now, his constant companion a Pomeranian named Pinky.
“When I was in high school, our neighbor was sick and she was unable to take care of the dog, so she decided to give it to us and I took care of her all through high school. I still have her with me.”
For safety Clayton Geathers, My Cause, My Cleats was an opportunity to tell the story of his mother-in-law, who he lost last year.
“I knew Miss Gloria for six years and since the day I met her, it was smiles,” he said. “The first thing I thought about was her and what she went through with breast cancer. So, that was an easy choice for me.”
He sent his cleats off to his friend, Joshua Reese, but kept it a secret from his wife, Whitney.
“I just told him I wanted it for breast cancer awareness and I told him Proverbs 31 and he drew the angel and that was special,” he said. “When Whitney saw it, she started crying. In their house back in Orlando, her mom had angels all over the house.”
And he knew wearing them would be even more special.
“There's always a piece of her with me and just to have the cleats on representing - I know she's looking down. I know she's proud of Whitney, the family - so I just want to have a good showing for her and bring awareness.”
Rookie offensive lineman Quenton Nelson used it as an opportunity to raise awareness for the cause of a former teammate and his family.
“I went to college with Nick Weishar at Notre Dame and his family runs the Weish4Ever foundation,” he said. “Nick had a brother that passed away from cancer at 21 years old and his last wish was to pay it forward, all the help they got financially and personally.”
For Nelson, being able to support friends that have become family was a unique opportunity.
“I know Nick and his other brother and they're both amazing people, a great family, and I imagine his brother Andrew was the same way,” he said. “Our parents hang out all the time. It's just a great family and I'm really happy to be able to do it.”
Cornerback Chris Milton chose to represent his family’s foundation and honor his late grandmother.
“It's a foundation my family formed and named after my grandma, she died from cancer two years ago. She battled cancer on and off for maybe 10 years. She was definitely a fighter and a warrior. It was an easy choice for me,” he said.
The Edith Marie Foundation offers support to families with someone battling cancer.
“It could be something as simple as paying a bill for them or taking them to a doctor appointment - just small things to show them support and show them they're not going through it alone.”
It was a bittersweet way for Milton to show appreciation for a woman who’s meant so much to him.
“She's been with me on my whole journey and I know she's not going anywhere. I know she's very proud of me and I'm just thankful for someone who was so influential in my life.”
Punter Rigoberto Sanchez chose to honor his late grandmother through the Lung Cancer Foundation of America.
“My mother's mom passed away from lung cancer. I didn't get to meet her, but I hear many stories that she was a great woman and I just want to bring awareness for that,” he said.
He was also aware of the joy it would bring his mother.
“I think it's really cool, just to be on TV and my mom gets to watch the game from home. She knows I'm going to be wearing them, so I think that's pretty cool.”
Defensive Tackle Margus Hunt chose to support the Pediatric Retinal Research Foundation in honor of friends whose daughter was born with FEVR.
“It's a condition where the retina is not attached to the eye,” he said. “Their baby was born blind. They've been going through surgeries ever since she was born. They've traveled the country to make sure she gets the best care.”
They found it in Royal Oak, Michigan, with Dr. Antonio Capone.
“He guided us through the hardest time of our life. We didn't know anything about blindness. We didn't know anything about her disease. And he carefully walked us through,” said Michael Halbert. “He and the entire doctor group there is a part of the foundation called the Pediatric Retinal Research Foundation.”
On Sunday, Hunt wore his cleats. And Michael and Caroline Halbert, who live in Dallas, were at Lucas Oil Stadium with their daughter, Presley, to support him, the foundation, and their Dallas Cowboys team.
“We’re stunned and immensely grateful for everything that he's doing for her and everything the Hunt family has done for us,” Michael said. “We weren't going to miss it, but the fact that it's the Cowboys makes it a little bit sweeter.”
Hunt’s wife, Heather, called the timing a God thing.
“Last year, we didn't really have a connection to anything. So, this year it was like, 'Oh my gosh, let's do it for Presley's research foundation,’” she said. “It's the coolest platform. And to use it to raise awareness for someone as sweet as Presley - she's just the sweetest, happiest little girl. She's amazing.”
Andrew Luck’s relationship with Riley Hospital for Children started shortly after he arrived in Indianapolis.
And his cleats reflected that relationship.
“For me personally, supporting Riley in any way is very important and it was an honor to wear them,” he said. “They were flashy, probably flashier than anything else I’ve ever worn in my life on a football field. But it was cool. The folks did a great job with the wagon and the ‘Be The Hope NOW’ slogan on the cleats.”
Money raised by the Riley Children’s Foundation supports pediatric research, care, and patient and family support.
Carrie Kirk has seen firsthand the impact of that support. Her son, Cameron, is a Riley kid who’s currently undergoing treatment for leukemia.
On Sunday, Cameron was on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium with his family and his friend, Mason Garvey.
“He'll look back and see this and not what he can't do, so that's what we love,” Carrie said.
Mason is also a Riley kid. Diagnosed in August with Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma, the two became fast friends while supporting each other and so did their families.
“Our first chemo treatment, Carrie came and found us on our floor. Cam was having chemo also, so she found out and came and found us and that's how we started to become friends,” said Mason’s mom, Heather.
Longtime season ticket holders, the Garveys are grateful for all the ways their team and their quarterback supports Riley families.
“For someone in his position to care enough to raise awareness for our kids, that's what it boils down to,” Heather said. “It means so much that these players and the organization takes time to give these kids experiences that mean so much to them when they have to go through so much.”
No matter the cause or the organization - for the players, wearing their cause on their cleats is an opportunity they don’t take for granted.
“I know a bunch of guys support a bunch of different amazing causes," Luck said. "I think being able to showcase that on a football field and shine light on different positive things that so many guys in our locker room support - not just in Indianapolis, but across the country, I think is really special.”
Every player has a story.
This month, they’ve been able to tell those stories in a uniquely personal way.
“It's very important because every player is dealing with things in their personal life that people don't really know about,” Milton said.
In December, they wore their hearts on their cleats.
For the third consecutive season, the NFL and its 32 clubs celebrated the My Cause, My Cleats campaign, which gave players the opportunity to wear customized cleats to provide awareness and support for the charitable organization of their choice.
“This is a way that people can understand a little more and understand them a little more than just knowing them as a football player,” Milton said.
Under the bright lights of the NFL, they shined.
And so did their stories.
Players have the option of donating their game worn cleats to the NFL auction site where 100% of the proceeds go directly to their cause. For more information or to bid, go to: https://www.nfl.com/mycausemycleats.