When Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was much younger — he was a millionaire at 20, fresh off being taken No. 1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft — he knew he wanted to financially support a cause, but he was not sure which one.
Then he was introduced to some 18-year-old foster kids in California who were getting ready to graduate high school and emancipate from foster care. The realities that awaited them made Smith freeze in his tracks.
“Basically when they turn 18, they get dropped off at a shelter and all government assistance ends,” Smith said. “You’re 18 years old and you become homeless, basically, left to fend for yourself. I couldn’t believe that was a reality.”
As Smith started to learn more about kids in foster care — many were at a high risk for dropping out of high school and being unemployed — he realized he’d had found his cause.
“The outcomes can be bad, and I just saw that it was unfair,” Smith said. “That’s what my foundation is all about, helping them stay in school and finish school, whether it be high school or college.”
Smith, like many NFL players, will support his charity of choice — the aptly-named Alex Smith Foundation — on Sunday by wearing custom-designed cleats for the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign this week.
Nine other Chiefs have elected to participate in the campaign, which will also allow players to auction off their cleats at NFL Auction to raise money for their respective causes.
“The NFL is pretty strict when it comes to certain things, so I think it means a lot,” receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “I understand it’s a business, I understand there are rules. But it finally gives guys a chance to express themselves, tell the world who they really are and what they stand for.”
Here’s a rundown of the 10 Chiefs who are participating in “My Cause My Cleats” during the Falcons game Sunday, and a few words from each on why:
S Eric Berry: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Awareness
Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in Nov. 2014, but it only took him seven months to beat it and return to his team a year ago, when he made the Pro Bowl and won the NFL’s comeback player of the year award. Berry hopes his journey inspires people to never give up, no matter what obstacles stand in their way. “Hopefully, throughout my play, that helps people understand what (cancer survivors go through,” Berry said.
P Dustin Colquitt &
LS James Winchester: TeamSmile
TeamSmile partners oral health professionals with professional athletic organizations to provide dental care to underserved children. The goal, Colquitt explained, is to give children more confidence in their smiles, which they believe will brighten their outlook on life. “We want to push them out the door with swag and confidence,” Colquitt wrote.
WR Chris Conley: Enduring Hearts
Enduring Hearts’ mission is to fund research that increases the longevity of pediatric heart transplants and improve the quality of life for transplant recipients. Conley selected the charity because a good friend of his is on its board of directors.“I’ve had a chance to visit and meet with a lot of kids in hospitals in Atlanta, in Georgia, and I thought this was a great way to give back,” Conley said.
LB Derrick Johnson: Defend the Dream Foundation
Johnson founded his Defend the Dream Foundation in 2012 with the goal of providing low-income and inner city youth with the resources to reach their full potential. He’s turned 10 local classrooms into “Discovery Dens,” which are well-stocked reading rooms. “That’s a big part of my passion, what I want to do as far as impacting the community through education,” Johnson said. “It’s very important to making the younger generation’s dreams come true.”
TE Travis Kelce: 87 and Running
Kelce’s broad mission is to empower and enrich the lives of disadvantaged youth through education, business, arts, science and athletics. Kelce, for example, hosts the annual Walk the Walk Charity Fashion show which pairs professional athletes and local Operation Breakthrough youth to walk the runaway to raise funds for the foundation. “I’m trying to branch out to show that everybody matters,” Kelce said. “It’s important to me to get people started on their dreams and really accomplish what they want in life. I feel like I can be a positive influence and help people do that.”
WR Jeremy Maclin: JMac Gives Back
The mission of Maclin’s organization is to provide opportunities through charitable and educational efforts to kids in alternative living situations. On Mother’s Day, Maclin’s foundation gave nine local, deserving single moms a stadium tour that included several surprises throughout, including flowers and personalized gifts. “I always say you’re not reaching your full potential as a person unless you reach out and help others,” Maclin said. “What better way to help out than to help out youth.”
CB Marcus Peters: Fam 1st Family Foundation
The Fam 1st Family Foundation is dedicated to uplifting and empowering youth in the Bay Area and throughout the United States through education, with the additional goal of building self-esteem and academic learning skills. Peters regularly mentors disadvantaged youth and helps facilitate youth football camps in his hometown of Oakland, Calif., with former Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. “It’s me and my family members giving back to my community,” Peters said.
QB Alex Smith: The Alex Smith Foundation
Smith’s foundation provides foster teens with the tools to transition to successful adulthood by promoting mentoring, education, housing, internship, job and advocacy programs. Smith’s Guardian Scholars program provides a scholarship, year-round housing and extensive individual guidance to those who receive it. Twenty-three former foster youth have graduated from San Diego State University, with a 78 percent graduation rate, significantly besting the national rate of 3% for foster youth. The foundation also partners with several businesses in Kansas City to provide care to foster care youth.
WR Albert Wilson: The Albert Wilson Foundation
Wilson’s foundation is committed to creating opportunities that will enhance the lives of youth in foster care by breaking the cycle of abuse, neglect and abandonment by supporting youth during their transition in and out of foster care. Wilson spent his formative years in multiple foster homes before he was eventually taken in by a family, and while he knew he could go to any in-state public school on scholarship, provided he got accepted, the same could not be said for his sisters, who he said left foster care and didn’t have the same opportunity. “They didn’t have the same benefit,” Wilson said, “so we’re building programs and raising money to give scholarships out of state.”