TAMPA, Fla. -- For Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander, his late brother Broderick Taylor is with him wherever he goes. Every game he plays, he thinks of "Brod," who was shot and killed in their hometown of Anniston, Alabama. He was just 17 years old and was preparing to graduate high school.
Alexander has dedicated the rest of his life to honoring his brother and spreading a message of peace. So it's only fitting that on Sunday -- as part of the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" program, in which players get to wear custom cleats supporting a charity or cause of their choice -- Alexander will represent "Stop the Violence," and Broderick's name will be etched on them, along with an image of an angel.
Alexander also opened an annual free football camp in their hometown honoring his brother.
"[I'm] just giving back to save others’ lives and just trying to prevent everything from happening before it happens," Alexander said. "It’s hard for me to get over that, and I don’t think I [ever] will. Even though I know he’s looking down on each and every one of us and he wants us to get over it because he’s in a better place, but I don’t think anyone can get over him being gone."
For defensive end William Gholston, the "My Cause, My Cleats" program is also very personal. The Detroit native is supporting United Way of Genesee County, and in particular, the people of Flint, Michigan, whose water crisis resulted in a state of emergency and the Michigan attorney general's office charging several state officials with involuntary manslaughter. Residents must drink bottled water until all lead pipes are replaced, which won't happen until at least 2020.
"I think it's been close to 1,500 days where they still haven't had clean water," Gholston said. "I know there's been a lot of efforts though -- a lot of people have donated a lot, people have helped with the cause -- but in the media, it hasn't been in the spotlight anymore, [and] I feel like it should be."
These are cleats that Bucs defensive end William Gholston will wear Sunday to bring awareness for what's happening in his home state of Michigan. You can see the words "Flint" near the ankle and "clean water" printed multiple... https://t.co/0l7Zstn4KG pic.twitter.com/zWgUlUgEDQ— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) November 30, 2017
For safety Justin Evans, it wasn't so much that he had a personal connection to Metropolitan Ministries. It was the fact that when he visited the organization for the first time with his fellow rookies, a little girl ran up to him and wrapped her arms around him.
"She had her arms around my neck," Evans said. "She wouldn't let me go."
He learned that her name was Kimoree, she was 10 and she was homeless. They struck an immediate friendship, and Kimoree actually came to One Buc Place to help Evans design his cleats. She chose the design and the colors. His favorite part about them? They have her name on them.
"They wanted me to auction them off, but I want to keep them," Evans said. They've become too precious of a memento for him, and a token of their friendship.
These are @kingjayev's cleats that he's wearing today, honoring @MetroMinistries, which helps poor and homeless families in Tampa Bay. They were designed by a little girl named Kimoree, one of 250 children the organization cares... https://t.co/wNXH9UbVkg pic.twitter.com/SKwpfJgFQ9— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) December 3, 2017
He wants people to know that she and the other children there are battling very tough circumstances, and they are incredibly brave and resilient.
"They're just like normal little kids, but it's amazing to see how they have so much joy and so much energy," said Evans, who now plans to do more with the organization.
The Bucs have an impressive 45 players participating in the "My Cause, My Cleats" program, which was established last year as a way for players to express themselves and what they're most passionate about. NFL rules prohibit them from wearing these types of cleats in other regular-season games. They have the opportunity to auction them off afterward, with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward the charity of their choice.
Running back Jacquizz Rodgers is supporting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
"My mom, Tasha, battled leukemia this past year, and now we get to celebrate her being in remission," Rodgers tweeted. "This year my cleats are dedicated to her and all the families currently battling leukemia."
My cleats hold an extra special meaning for me this year. My mom, Tasha, battled leukemia this past year, and now we get to celebrate her being in remission. This year my cleats are dedicated to her and all the families currently battling Leukemia. #mycausemycleats pic.twitter.com/sETElkdBJe— JacQuizz Rodgers (@Qui22Rodgers) November 30, 2017
Left tackle Donovan Smith is supporting Autism Speaks. His young nephew Aiden was diagnosed with nonverbal autism several years ago. He wants people to have a better understanding of the incredible gifts and talents children on the spectrum possess.
Here is a look at the cleats Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith will wear Sunday for the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats campaign. He is supporting Autism Speaks. You can see the name "Aiden," on them. That's his nephew. https://t.co/tPxBqKnLgx pic.twitter.com/wftpjRgbIl— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) November 29, 2017
"They're very unique. I've never seen someone unlock a phone and I'm never even around him like that," Smith said. "He just knows my password. He's very alert and aware of his surroundings and stuff. He likes things his way. I'd say that if you run across someone who is autistic, sit down and try to understand them before you pass judgement."
In addition to wearing the cleats, Smith treated several autistic children and their families to a day at the autism-friendly theme park Legoland Florida.
Punter Bryan Anger was inspired to honor the TAMCO Foundation, which supports severely wounded veterans in Florida. One of his neighbors got him involved in the organization's annual fishing tournament, which raises funds for veterans coping with blindness, amputation, post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues.
"My brother Matt is in the military [Air Force reserves], I have a lot of family in the military, [Tampa] is a military town, so I just want to give back to them as much as I can," he said.
Offensive lineman Mike Liedtke, who was just called up to the 53-man roster, has always had a fixation with pheasants -- so much so that he has one tattooed on the inside of his right arm. He's honoring an organization called "Pheasants Forever."
This may be the most unique organization represented in the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" program today -- "Pheasants Forever." Here is Bucs offensive lineman Mike Liedtke earlier this week seeing his cleats for the first time.... https://t.co/qLhBBTBzX8 pic.twitter.com/H8PyO4b6SH— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) December 3, 2017
"I've been an avid hunter and outdoorsman -- hunting, fishing -- since I was a little kid," Liedtke said. "There are so many other great causes that guys are picking, so I kind of wanted to pick something different. I hadn't really seen anybody promote conservation and things like that."
The organization, along with "Quail Forever," educate people about safe, responsible hunting. They also track migration patterns by state.
Liedtke said, "I thought it would be cool to pick something different, something I hold dearly to my heart -- I mean, it's tattooed on me."