ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Across the league, NFL players will support different causes on their cleats beginning this week. It’s something that has happened in prior years and a smattering of Detroit Lions are participating in the event.
In their own words, here’s why some Lions have chosen the charities that will appear on their cleats before their game on Sunday against the Rams.
[Editor's note: Some of what the players said was edited for content and clarity.]
Matthew Stafford: S.A.Y. Detroit
"Obviously it’s the main focus of mine as far as charitable things, especially in the city of Detroit, so been with them for a while. Put a lot of time and resources into it. It’s just a great place for kids that a lot of them don’t have a place to go after school so it gives them a chance to go study, learn and at the same time be active, too. It seemed like an easy choice for me.
"Spent more time down there when I didn’t have kids of my own. A little bit busier now but still try to sneak over there once in awhile. It’s awesome. It’s always been great. Kids are super excited, receptive. It’s a lot of fun."
Michael Roberts: Downtown Boxing Gym
"When I came up to Detroit I was looking for an organization to connect with and I grew up boxing. So I visited, had a friend there that was already kind of working with them and I met Khali [Sweeney] when I first visited and he showed me around and fell in love with it. I visit when I could. I haven’t been able to this year because I’ve been injured so much. So I’m trying to stay with them and their cause because I love what they do.
"I like that they provide opportunities for children that otherwise wouldn’t be able to. They are a downtown boxing gym, but if you don’t box, you can still go there. They have a recording studio for young artists, music lessons, have people teaching them how to code. A lot of different things and not a cent comes out of their kids' pockets or their parents. It’s just a pretty cool thing and I’m sure if anyone visits, they’ll feel the same way I feel."
Ricky Jean Francois: Black Bottom
"An old neighborhood that used to be around in Detroit but it's now a freeway that’s sitting on top of that old neighborhood. The reason I’m doing it, I like looking at Black Wall Street. I did a study on them in Oklahoma -- Tulsa -- with doctors, bankers, name whatever it was, it was a black neighborhood that had everything going for themselves. Got burnt down and then when I came up here for the first time, people said ‘I hear you’re a Black Wall Street fan.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘You know, there is a Black Bottom neighborhood here, too.’ I was so stoked, said take me to it. They said unless we’re going to knock down a highway, that’s the only way we’re going to take you to it. So when I started doing that, digging into the history and seeing the beautiful history that it used to have once upon a time and still does now. I understand the people that say the city’s ran down, but the city is being rebuilt and looking the same way it looked once before, beautiful. I just wanted to do the Black Bottom.
"They just kept telling me the history and history and history of that neighborhood and don’t want nobody to forget it. The same way I didn’t want nobody to forget Black Wall Street. Nobody should forget about Black Bottom because it’s a historical spot and it was almost like a spot for Detroit, for people in Detroit to go to and enjoy it."
Luke Willson: The Luke Willson Canadian Tire Youth Football grants
"Do you know what Canadian Tire is? Kind of like a big box store, similar to almost if you combine Home Depot and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Like very, very popular in Canada. A lot of rural areas will have a Canadian Tire as well. I don’t know, I think it was eight, nine years ago they started a separate part of their company called Canadian Tire Jumpstart. And it’s basically funding for underprivileged youth to get involved in any sort of sports. Not just football. It’s not my foundation. I partnered with Canadian Tire Jumpstart to do the Luke Willson Youth Football Grants, so it’s a grant thing. But not everybody plays football in Canada, so it’s kind of underfunded. So anyone can apply throughout the country. We had a $50,000 grant campaign last year."
Tavon Wilson: Lupus of Michigan
"I have a lot of different family members that have dealt with the disease and it’s something that I’ve been involved in, probably five or six years now in D.C., here in Detroit. My aunt, Regina Williams, was affected by it. I think it was 2013 when we found out she had lupus and it was a really tough time for me and my family so it was something I wanted to be more involved in and raise awareness because it’s something that a lot of people don’t know about, that it affects the body very quickly.
"There was an event I did last year with Lupus Detroit, Lupus America in Washington, D.C., did that for two years. Been a brand ambassador for lupus in D.C. since 2013. Every year I do something, whether it’s here or D.C., I try to do something every year."
Miles Killebrew: Playworks
"I’ve been doing some work with them, some schools, and I’m actually visiting one this Tuesday. I can’t wait. I just like what they stand for, getting out into the community and making sure kids have a way to play, man, in a safe environment, especially here in Detroit. They partnered with the Lions so we’ve done events with them and then I just reached out to them separately and said, ‘Hey, I want to get involved a little bit more.’
"I’ll just visit schools on my own, separate from team functions. I’ve been in touch with a couple people there at Playworks. Some wonderful people over there and it’s just a good environment, I would say."
Devon Kennard: Midnight Golf
"I wanted to find an organization, there was one I worked with in New York and I wanted to find one here. I heard about Midnight Golf and it sounded awesome and I went and visited and see what they do. It’s amazing the mentorship they give these kids and how hard it is to get into the afterschool program. The kids that go there are just exceptional. A lot of these kids have a bright future ahead of them and a lot of these mentors there really help guide them to the next step going into college. They are mostly high school seniors so I just think it’s a really cool thing that they do and how they help these kids prepare for life but specifically college and the impact that it’s going to have on their lives. That was kind of motivation."
TJ Jones: Lisa Colagrossi Brain Aneurysm Foundation
"My dad passed [from a brain aneurysm]. His brother went to school with my dad so we linked through that. They are the leaders in brain aneurysm awareness and research. That’s just what I’m partnered with, with Todd Crawford, so we just have a relationship and have been working together the last two years."