Over 30 different causes will be represented on players' cleats Sunday as part of the NFL's Fourth Annual My Cause, My Cleats Initiative. Some players chose which to support based on family or loved ones that have been impacted by certain diseases. Others have their own foundations they proudly back. But for defensive lineman Beau Allen, his chosen cause has a little bit of a 'higher' meaning.
Back when Allen was with the Philadelphia Eagles, then-teammate Chris Long got him involved with Waterboys, which puts professional athletes and sports fans on the same team in pursuit of one goal: bringing life-sustaining drinking water to communities in need. Allen championed the cause proudly for a couple of years – but this past offseason, decided that wasn't quite enough. Waterboys leads an expedition into Africa and up Mount Kilimanjaro each year, with both NFL players and military veterans, as a means to raise money for the organization and bring the two groups together.
The dormant volcano is the tallest mountain in Africa, and the highest single free-standing mountain in the world, rising 19,341 into the air. To summit its peak is no small feat – especially for a big man like the 327-pound Allen, who along with Long, Eagles' center Jason Kelce and former Seahawk Haloti Ngata, joined military veterans accomplished just that. And in the process, the two groups figured out they weren't so different – especially when they had the same mission.
When you get up there, the same sort of fellowship I've seen in Afghanistan or Iraq – you don't want to let your buddy down," said Fred Dummar, a retired Army Green Beret who made the climb with Allen. "If you're buddy stumbles, you want to be there pushing him, giving him a little shove in the back, steadying him. Everybody wants to make it. You don't want to let the team down."
"The thing I remember talking to Fred about is there are a lot of similarities between combat veterans and athletes when they get done playing," Allen continued. "They kind of lose a sense of purpose and they miss that brotherhood and it's kind of different when you don't have people telling you what to do and where to go and line up and stuff like that. We kind of bonded over that and it was one of the reasons it was fun to be around those guys."
Dummar was brought in by Nate Boyer, who was under Dummar during his own time as a Green Beret. Boyer also played for the Seattle Seahawks and therefore bridges the gap between the two groups for causes like these. It's the cause within the cause, helping retired veterans feel a sense of belonging and purpose again, which so many struggle with after retirement.
To regain that sense of purpose though, the group first visited the well sites. In Allen's case, they went to five different sites around the densely populated Arusha, Tanzania to see firsthand the impact the organization was making. One particular site, which was at a school in the middle of the city, Allen won't ever forget.
"You go and you look and you see where they were getting their water before, and it was this really small creek, not that deep, and it was filled with garbage," Allen recalled. "Not sanitary. And you're like, wow this is where they get their drinking water. This is not ideal at all. Then you see the well and you see how much of an impact it has and you really feel it."
"The first couple days, everybody is hanging out, you start seeing the wells and realizing how important it is so I think that kind of served to galvanize the group,"' Dummar added. "All the little kids at the school running around and playing, seeing the joy they have and how appreciative they are over something that we take for granted is really kind of a life-changing, life-impacting moment."
Fast forward a few months and Allen stares at a Smartwater bottle in his locker at AdventHealth Training Center on 'Unboxing Day' this past week for My Cause, My Cleats. His blue cleats bear the Waterboys logo that he'll don on Sunday. He reflects on what it's all for, knowing from experience the change he's effecting.
"It's a pretty humbling thing," Allen said. "It makes you feel like you're doing something important – and you are."
And as for Dummar and the rest of the group that hiked up Kilimanjaro, he says they all have a pretty 'epic' group text that continues to this day. It's a bond that lasts long beyond the climb, just like the wells that provide water long after the team is gone.