The NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative provided the opportunity for NFL players around the league to wear custom cleats during Week 13 as a way to showcase individual charitable causes. Participation was voluntary and each cleat was player-specific. The Buccaneers had 45 players participate, putting them as one of the top teams in the league for player participation. The cleats represent over 40 different charitable causes.
On Friday, a couple of players got to see firsthand the impact their chosen organizations were making in the community by getting a visit from patients and their families helped by their causes. Both offensive lineman Leonard Wester and tight end Alan Cross met with patients from Shriners Hospitals for Children and running back Jacquizz Rodgers got to meet the Boy and Girl of the Year from Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Suncoast.
"For them to have selected us, we are just so honored with their cleats," said Frank Dyer, who is the chairman of the Board of Governors for the Shriners of Tampa. "I was tickled to death to see that."
It's important for Dyer to highlight the philanthropic efforts of the Shriners. They have hospitals all over the country, as well as in Canada and Mexico, that focus on pediatric specialty care, regardless of patients' ability to pay.
"We have Christmas parties, we have Easter egg hunts," Dyer said of what sets Shriners hospitals apart. "It starts with a child at the hospital building a relationship, it's like a family. Children, you'll see them run to their surgeons when they come in. I've only been at this 28 years, but I have yet to see a child petrified to walk through that door."
Patrick Jackson-Williams is a patient ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children and was in attendance on Friday to meet with Cross and Wester. Part of his job as an ambassador is to speak on what Shriners has meant to him and raise awareness for the organization.
"This great hospital, this great organization, what they do for us is amazing," Jackson-Williams said. "They help us, they allow us to be able to walk properly and help us strengthen our self-esteem. Once you come in, there's a whole team dedicated to your care and dedicated to loving you and caring for you and helping you get to the place where you need to be."
"It's almost overwhelming because when you look at these players, the statement they are making, it means so much," Jackson-Williams said when asked about what it meant for him to see Shriners hospitals on NFL cleats this Sunday. "[Shriners has] hospitals everywhere."
He even likened seeing the cleats to his own experience as a patient at the local Shriners hospital here in the Tampa Bay area.
"I look at the cleats and I think of all the braces I have," Jackson-Williams added, smiling. "There's a section in the hospital called P.O.P.S. [Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services] where it's like they are giving us our own special cleats, too."
"It's awesome to put a smile on the kids' face," said tight end Alan Cross, whose father and grandfather were both Shriners and part of the reason he chose to represent the charity. "Regardless of whatever day you're having, if you make a kid smile and they smile back, you should have a good day after that, for sure. That's one of the main reasons I always put a smile on."
Running back Jacquizz Rodgers got the opportunity to meet the Boy and Girl of the Year from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Eight-year-old Nick Shanahan and five-year-old Kendra Cason, who are both currently in remission, enjoyed sitting out on the patio, watching practice and getting autographs from various Buccaneers players who came over to say hi to both groups. Kendra was especially excited for the ice cream machine inside the Buccaneers' dining hall.
Nick and Kendra were both diagnosed with Leukemia and got involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through their doctors and case managers. Nick's grandma, Anna Shanahan, was especially appreciative of all the assistance the organization provides.
"I just appreciate all the support for the kids," Anna said. "They have been gifted with so many opportunities that they just wouldn't have had. It's not just for the child, it's for the families. It just helps everybody."
Anna also mentioned how the visibility of Rodgers wearing cleats that represent the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is right in line with Nick's current efforts.
"It's so good because [Nick] wants to increase awareness at the Children's Cancer Center and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society," Shanahan said. "Nick had a microphone in his suit at the age of five. Nick was born talking."
The My Cause, My Cleats initiative has teams and fans around the league talking and raising awareness for countless organizations. Participating Buccaneers players, including Wester, Cross and Rodgers, will be wearing their custom cleats this Sunday as the team travels to Green Bay to take on the Packers.