‘My Cause My Cleats’: The top 24 Week 13 customs — and why players wore them Reppin’ everything from the American Cancer Society to the Trayvon Martin Foundation to Kaepernick

Week 13 in the National Football League, at least since last season, is all about creativity, customization and cause. Through the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, which the league started in 2016, players can bend uniform guidelines and wear cleats designed to represent a cause of their choice.

Typically, players are only allowed to wear custom-painted kicks during pregame warm-ups. Then switch to uniform footwear while the game clock is rolling. But in Week 13, flashy cleats in vibrant colors, featuring unique illustrations and messages, are the norm. Athletes all across the NFL, from every position group, commission the hottest designers in the sneaker game to create the perfect pair of cleats for their cause. This year, around 1,000 players reportedly took part in the initiative, and after games ended, select cleats were sold at auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting causes such as the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Colin Kaepernick’s #KnowYourRightsCamp, Habitat for Humanity, autism, POW and MIA families, anti-bullying, social justice and criminal justice reform, the Trayvon Martin Foundation and more.

“This weekend, you’ll really see the impact art has had on the NFL,” Los Angeles artist Troy Cole, aka Kickasso, tweeted before Sunday’s games. Last season, he designed every pair of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s anticipated pregame cleats. “Art is a powerful way to tell a story #MyCauseMyCleats.”

Here are The Undefeated’s top 24 “My Cause My Cleats” customs, along with the players who wore them, the causes they supported and the artistic geniuses who brought charitable creativity to life.


Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: #BringBackOurGirls campaign

Joe Barksdale, Offensive Tackle, Los Angeles Chargers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Fender Music Foundation

Designer: DeJesus Custom Footwear Inc.

Michael Bennett, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: National League of POW/MIA Families

A.J. Bouye, Cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

Cause: American Cancer Society

Designer: Kickasso

Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

Instagram Photo

Cause: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

Designer: Corey Pane

Kurt Coleman, Safety, Carolina Panthers

Cause: Levine Children’s Hospital

Designer: Ryan Bare, SR Customs

Mike Daniels, defensive end, Green Bay Packers

Cause: Anti-bullying

Designer: SolesBySir

Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Cause: American Heart Association

Designer: Mache Customs

DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Brotherhood Crusade

Designer: SolesBySir

Malcolm Jenkins, Safety, Philadelphia Eagles

Cause: Social Justice and Criminal Justice Reform, Players Coalition

Designer: Sixth-grade class at Jubilee School, Illustrative Cre8ions

Eddie Lacy, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: International Relief Teams, Hurricane Katrina

Designer: Bizon Customs

Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins

Instagram Photo

Cause: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Cause: Social injustices and honoring close friend Dayton Williams, who was shot and killed in 2010 in Euclid, Ohio.

Rishard Matthews, Wide Receiver, Tennessee Titans

Instagram Photo

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: SolesBySir

Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: “The Life of a Single Mom”

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Eric Reid, Safety, San Francisco 49ers

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: Tragik MCMXCIII

A’shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

Cause: Leukemia patients

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: Autism

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

Instagram Photo

Cause: Torrey Smith Family Fund, Show Your Soft Side, Players Coalition, NO More Campaign

Designer: Kreative Custom Kicks, Dez Customz

Shane Vereen, Running Back, New York Giants

Cause: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles

Designer: Kickasso

Anthony Walker, Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts

Cause: Trayvon Martin Foundation

Designer: Desmond J. Jones, Art is Dope

Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Houston Texans

Cause: Habitat for Humanity

Designer: 5-year-old twins Kayla and Jakwan; Evan Melnyk, Nike

Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: Why Not You Foundation

Designer: Kate Neckel and Dash Tsai

 

Daryl Worley, Cornerback, Carolina Panthers

Instagram Photo

Cause: CeaseFirePA

Designer: SR Customs

Nadia Hamilton was inspired to launch MagnusCards by her brother with autism This tech designer’s new app is a video game for individuals with cognitive needs

When 30-year-old app designer Nadia Hamilton was growing up, she noticed that her younger brother Troy, who was and is living with autism, needed support in completing everyday tasks. Brushing teeth and getting dressed were especially difficult.

Troy would go into the bathroom to pick up his toothbrush but would wait for family members to prompt him on the next task.

“OK, step one, you’re going to put the toothpaste on your toothbrush. Step two, then you’re going to do this and that and this and that,” Hamilton said. “If he did not have that support, he was stuck.

“This is something that people with autism and cognitive special needs in general tend to struggle with: knowing or feeling comfortable doing the step-by-step instructions that are involved in a process.”

By the time Troy Hamilton, who is now 28, graduated from high school, there were fewer and fewer opportunities for his continued personal and social development. So Hamilton used her experiences growing up with Troy to launch Magnusmode and create MagnusCards, an app in the form of a video game that focuses on providing step-by-step instructions for completing tasks.

“I got an idea. I think I was around 8 years old. I knew that Troy loved video games, and I knew that he loved using the official strategy guides for each video game. A strategy guide is kind of like a step-by-step instruction to help you get through a stage in a game. So I knew that this guide enabled him to play the games on his own. I started thinking, I’m like, ‘OK, I like to draw. What if I can utilize my creativity to help him to navigate life around the home?’ ”

Brushing teeth, making toast, preparing for school and bedtime are part of MagnusCards’ system. In its preparation stage, Hamilton would use tape to post instructions to the walls of the apartment she shared with Troy. Troy would then go through each activity by looking at the visuals and re-enacting what he saw step by step.

“This afforded him with the confidence and with the safety net of knowing that he was going to get to the end of the activity, and he would not miss any steps, and he could do it on his own,” Hamilton explained. “It was pretty much from the strategy guides from video games, I created the ultimate strategy guide for life.”

Hamilton graduated from the University of Toronto, where she studied history and political science and earned a bachelor’s degree. She started working with individuals with special needs to pay her way through college. Going into their homes as one of her duties gave her insight on how other users could benefit from the app. So while developing MagnusCards, she was able to focus on an all-inclusive product that would benefit others seeking to maintain everyday work or life habits. The gaming program offers full customization so caregivers, parents, teachers and others can use it.

“So if somebody’s used to doing laundry a certain way with their laundry machine with shirts that are a certain color, the pictures and the text can be customized on the card decks so that their experience is unique, and the instruction is relayed in a way that is important and digestible to them,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton spoke with The Undefeated about family support, being a change-maker in the world of technology and autism, and the infrastructure of MagnusCards.


Is your family supportive with the app?

Oh, yeah. Everybody. (Nadia and Troy have two other siblings.) I come from a really supportive family in general, so whenever somebody wants to do something or has an idea to do something, the first people that we even tell is the family. We are always together. We grew up being always together, and we do everything together. To this day I live in Waterloo, because my business is based here, but I go back on the weekend. I do so because I want to be near my family and I want to spend time with Troy.

How has your business spanned into a tool that’s helping a demographic of individuals living with autism?

I started out by just wanting to help my brother, but I quickly realized that there was millions of people who were suffering with these challenges worldwide, and 44 million in North America alone. So I entered a social business competition because I wanted to build a company that was dedicated to supporting people like Troy. It’s very much an extension of this family paradigm because every time I meet somebody, or I see somebody, or I even hear somebody when I’m out in the community that has autism, or Down syndrome, or Asperger’s, or dementia, or another cognitive special need, I see them as my brother. I see them as my family. This is all about elevating a group of people in society that have been underserved. That’s kind of why we do what we do. It’s basically about helping people to get outside of themselves and live in the community, and help that community understand that they have a place within it as well, and help them to understand that they have so much to offer.

How did your partnership with Colgate begin?

Within the app there’s this oral care category, and brushing teeth is always something that’s been challenging for my brother. It’s not that the act itself, the physical act, is challenging, which it is for many people. It’s really just the fact that if it’s not done perfectly, and by perfectly I mean in the routine that he’s used to, then his whole day can go downhill from there.

Brushing teeth is the first thing you do when you get up, and if it’s not done right, first of all, there’s all sorts of health implications if you don’t do it right. But, second of all, it ruins the person’s day. I knew that my brother really would benefit from some card decks in this category and other people that I’ve worked with as well.

I started thinking, OK, we need an oral care partner. I was thinking about Colgate because a couple reasons. One, my brother only uses Colgate. Another big reason was that we’re building a global company, and there’s a global need for autism.

I reached out to the executive team. I finally got a meeting. It took months. I knew from that handshake [after the meeting] that there was a strong chance that we were going to move forward because everybody just seemed to understand the importance of that when you’re saying that everybody deserves a future that they can smile about, that means everybody. So it’s this message of inclusivity and, also, this commitment to putting your money where your mouth is that gave me the confidence to believe that we were going to move forward with Colgate.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

I guess the fact that nobody’s really ever done anything like this before. There’s an extreme lack of support and services in the community for people with all sorts of cognitive special needs. And, essentially, what we’re doing here is building a whole new method of connecting these individuals with the world. And, to my knowledge, nobody is doing anything like this. So it’s very difficult when you’re doing something brand-new because you don’t really have anything to measure it against at first. So it can be scary. It can be challenging in the fact that I don’t come from a business background. I had to learn everything from scratch, everything, including sales. I think I draw a lot from my intuition, but, also, I had fantastic mentors along the way. And, also, I’m fueled by a passion and a competitiveness that is, I guess, rooted in athletics but also rooted in my love of my family.

How many people do you employ?

There’s 15 people on our team. Some are part-time, some are full-time, some are contractors, but we’re all a team. It was just me for a long time, but we have grown pretty fast.

How would you like to expand MagnusCards?

I’d really like to invite other people to come on board. It started out grass-roots, very basic, in an apartment building with a girl, and a brother, and a dream, quite frankly. But now we have a team, and we really are looking to share our mission and vision.

Ava DuVernay, John Legend and Marley Dias among Smithsonian American Ingenuity Awards honorees ‘Smithsonian’ magazine announces sixth annual awards ceremony and a new festival

Director Ava DuVernay continues to make strides in content creation, and her creativity keeps manifesting into star power. DuVernay — along with other phenomenal creators, including singer John Legend and 12-year-old author Marley Dias — is part of a group of distinguished guests being honored at Smithsonian magazine’s sixth annual American Ingenuity Awards on Nov. 29.

Award recipients were announced last week and span eight categories: technology, performing arts, visual arts, life sciences, physical sciences, history, social progress and youth.

DuVernay, director of the movie Selma and the television show Queen Sugar, is being honored for visual arts. Singer, songwriter and activist Legend is being honored for performing arts. Dias, creator of #1000BlackGirlBooks, is being honored for youth. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, received the award for social progress for introducing the character Julia — the first Muppet with autism.

Presenters at the awards ceremony will include iconic composer and music producer Quincy Jones and famed saxophonist Branford Marsalis. The winners will be commemorated in the December edition of Smithsonian magazine.

“This year’s American Ingenuity Awards honorees are revolutionizing American culture,” said Smithsonian editor-in-chief Michael Caruso. “Since their launch, the awards have always recognized the cutting edge of American achievement. It’s no accident that the winners of our physical sciences award last year, the LIGO team, just won the Nobel Prize in physics.”

As part of the awards announcement, Smithsonian magazine also announced the launch of its Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival. Starting on Nov. 15 and continuing through early December, the series of events featuring this year’s American Ingenuity recipients will include discussions with DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo about the new black Hollywood; Legend on what he considers his best album, Darkness and Light, and his recent accomplishments; and a discussion with Jones about his career in music. The festival will also house a re-creation of Duke Ellington’s second Sacred Concert in commemoration of its 50th anniversary by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

“The success of the awards program has led to a major expansion this year, the creation of the Smithsonian Ingenuity Festival,” Caruso said. “The festival will bring to life the spirit of innovation at many of our great Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., and in New York.”

Smithsonian museums hosting events include the Arts and Industries Building; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York; National Museum of American History; National Air and Space Museum; National Museum of Natural History; and National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Most of the events are free, and some require a reservation.

Nazr Mohammed isn’t retired, just prepared for his next phase in life He’s started a foundation to focus on bringing awareness and money to multiple causes

Chicago native and NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed has not officially retired after an 18-year stint in the league. And he doesn’t have much to say about when that announcement will come.

“I realized a long time ago, seeing other friends and teammates go through it. Only the great ones actually retire. The rest of us get retired,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need to officially retire, but I am retired. What I mean by that is, you know, there’s always a situation you would play for, but after a year has passed, I’m not really thinking in that mindset as far as playing again. I’m looking more into the business of basketball. There are things I want to do as far as looking for the right situation that can teach me the business of basketball and put me in a position where I have an opportunity to learn as much as I can. My dream is to one day run my own organization, whether it’s GM or as the president of an organization. I think I can manage and help build a championship team.”

But Mohammed is a multidimensional thinker whose skills have stretched far beyond the court. So for the next chapter of his career, he’s continuing to give back to others and teaching life skills to young girls and boys through his foundation. His off-the-court endeavors include the Nazr Mohammed Foundation, a fundraising organization that focuses on bringing awareness and money to a cause of his choice while hosting its own programs.

“You know how so many start a foundation and they have one particular cause? Just with me, it’s so many different things that I believe in and so many different causes that I’d like to support,” Mohammed said of his multilayered unit. “I decided that, you know what, one cause just isn’t enough, so I keep my foundation pretty broad.”

The University of Kentucky standout was selected in the first round of the 1998 NBA draft by the Utah Jazz right after his junior year. Utah traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers, with whom Mohammed spent the first two seasons of his NBA career. The 6-foot-10 center was an integral big man for the Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, Oklahoma City Thunder and his hometown Chicago Bulls. He played for the Thunder last season.

Mohammed attended high school at Kenwood Academy in Chicago and grew up in a big household led by his father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana.

“There’s 10 of us. Three brothers, six sisters. I’m like fourth from oldest,” he said.

In February, he shared information about his life, his childhood and growing up in a Muslim household in a blog post about religion and politics. He wrote about his experiences with online racism, and his story picked up national attention.

“It’s funny, when I do my blog, something happens that’s just constantly being talked about on TV, and I knew I had an opinion,” he said. “I do plan on doing the blog again. I don’t know when, I don’t know what it’ll be about. When there’s something to talk about, I just have some things I need to say about it, and I just start writing and put it out there.

“The funny part is I never thought I was a writer. I actually didn’t like writing a whole lot, but after I get started, I think I’m getting better. I enjoy it, and once I get started I can’t stop.”

Meanwhile, Mohammed is busy running The Village Project for boys and girls ages 14 to 18.

“What we do is we get up to 100 kids. We try to get about 50 girls and 50 boys. We go through different things and different situations that kids may be going through from bullying to etiquette, financial planning, etc. We create the curriculum according to the what we feel are tools they will need to excel. Then come in and talk to them about financial planning so they can get an understanding about how to handle money, how to save, what bills to expect. When you’re young, no one ever really talks to you about money and financial planning. I think that’s something, especially in the black community, we kind of have to learn on our own.”

Mohammed spoke with The Undefeated about his foundation, family and his overall journey.


What was the idea behind starting your foundation?

I was trying to do something for my high school. I wanted to do something where I help them out academically and athletically, so I decided it was time to start up my foundation. I can kind of use my platform, my name, to try and help to raise money or have fundraisers for them.

My first fundraiser we raised a total of $40,000 for my high school. It helped them upgrade a couple of academic areas. We were able to upgrade some things in their main gym. My second year, I decided to change it up. It was a couple of organizations that I felt that were doing some outstanding things in Chicago and I wanted to highlight them. One of them was Sue Duncan Children’s Center, a place I attended in elementary after the school day to play ball. Back when I attended it didn’t a have a name, so we called it Sue’s. It was at a church; Sue made us read then do a book report before we could play. The other option was to read to some of the younger kids. Sue’s son, Arne Duncan, later became the superintendent of Chicago schools. President [Barack] Obama later named him secretary of education. We donated money to Sue Duncan Children’s Center. Also a place called CircEsteem. It’s an organization that is an afterschool program that kind of keeps kids engaged. They are teaching them like circus tricks. And another one was called Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. In the third year, I switched it up again. This time I did a big fundraiser for Kovler Diabetes Center with the University of Chicago. And the reason I chose diabetes was because of a couple of people in my family suffer from Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. And I wanted to just kind of give back and bring awareness, because we all know how prevalent it is in the black community.

We would help them with the things they were doing as far as research, and they had programs where they were helping people pay for their medicine. In our fourth year, we decided to do something for autism. We did a big fundraiser to raise money for a couple of groups that were helping out in black communities, and communities everywhere. In the fifth year, we also donated to a couple of local organizations.

So that’s kind of what we do. We’re all over the place. If I see something where I feel like it’s a credible organization, or they’re doing great work and I can lend my name, or I could do something and raise money for them, I kind of just do it.

What’s been the hardest part of fundraising for you?

The hardest part is, it’s kind of sad. … You have so many people who say they want to help and they want to be part of what you’re doing, but they really want to help in certain ways. They only want to do certain things. So finding people who are willing to donate their time, or money, or their expertise, it’s been hard. There have been times where people have had their own agendas.

Which cause is the most like heart-tugging for you?

Honestly, all of them have been pretty equal. With autism, I had a friend who had two of his young children on the autistic spectrum. I had another friend whose son in high school was autistic. So that was something that was close to me. As far as diabetes in my immediate family, I have so many that are Type 1 and Type 2. Cancer, at the time I decided to do my fundraiser for cancer, I also had one friend pass from a form of cancer. I had another friend, his mom just found out she had cervical cancer, and I had two friends dealing with breast cancer, so that was something that was really close to me. With each fundraiser we did, there was definitely something that meant something dearly to me at the time and still does. I do have to admit, it is very rewarding doing The Village Project just because this is where we can help teenage kids, we can help young kids, and give them some directions.

As a ‘Windy City’ native, how do you feel about some of the community issues that have been plaguing the Chicago area?

Since I don’t live there full time, I can’t say it directly affects me. But being in Chicago, you just feel it. Growing up in Chicago and playing basketball, when I played, you almost had like an athlete pass, where if you’re doing good, you’re the good player, you are pretty much allowed to go play here and play there, and going to different neighborhoods and no one pretty much messed with you. The saddest part about the violence that’s going on in Chicago, you no longer see that pass. In the last couple of years, there’s been a couple of prominent high school athletes from Chicago who had been killed. When you talk about my city, I want you to talk about it for being a great city, it is. With all the violence that’s going on, the murder rate being so high in certain areas.

I think it’s time that I try and figure out what I can do. I’m as bashful about what exactly you can do with most people. There’s a lot of people working on it. I’m actually trying to find the right organization that I want to partner with, see where I can help.

How do you feel about rappers like Chance the Rapper and Common and others who are speaking out and taking a stand for what’s going on in the community there?

What Chance has been doing, it’s just been amazing. Just to be such a young guy. How intelligent and how passionate he is about the city, putting his money where his mouth is. It’s just been amazing. Some people forget Derrick [Rose] gave a million dollars to an after-school program in Chicago. It’s not talked about much; once it’s done, people forget quickly. Derrick put his money where his mouth was too. There’s people stepping up, people trying to support the city in whichever way they can, whether financially.

Are your children aware of and involved in your philanthropic efforts?

Yeah, definitely. I try to have them involved in little ways whenever we can. I definitely have them around when we do the big group stuff so they can just see what’s going on, letting them help fill gift bags, little things like that, just so they got a feel for what’s going on and kind of be part of it. I have a 14-year-old daughter who will be starting high school this year, 11-year-old son who will be in the sixth grade, and an 8-year-old daughter will be in third grade.

What’s been the most interesting part in being the giver?

I hate to say it, but one of the biggest reasons why I do it is when you give, that’s an opportunity to be selfish. What I mean by that is, when you give … I do it because it makes me feel good. At the end of the day, knowing that you’re in a position that you can help others and you can give and the smiles that you put on people’s faces and the happiness that you bring to others. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel good about myself, so if I can make myself feel a little bit better by giving to others, when I have the opportunity, I try to do it.

How has being a Ghanaian player in the NBA been for you?

It’s funny because I’m just doing my thing, and they’re so proud because I was the first Ghanaian in the NBA. So they’re so proud of it, but at the same time it’s one of those things, because I’m American-born, some people feel like, ‘We don’t know.’ Both my parents are from Ghana. I can’t pick where I was born. I feel like it just had a great impression on me. It’s a quality, and it’s something that is ingrained from different things for me. You know, growing up being the African kid in the neighborhood. You’re treated differently. People look at you differently. Your parents speak a different language but hear the accent.

My father, he really wanted us to understand the difference between being poor in America and Third World poor, how he grew up. We just got different culture and different view on things. Being included, once I became a good basketball player, having that background, my Ghanaian part and just being an African-American in America. I just got a chance to develop so many different views and be a part of so many different groups. That’s something I touched on in my blog about religion and politics.

How has your culture shaped you into the man you are now?

It’s in my DNA. My pops was a hardworking, smart, whatever it takes to be successful, whatever it takes to feed his family. It rubbed off on all of us, all the kids. It’s just part of our culture. You do whatever you have to do, especially being the man of the house. You feed your family, you keep a roof over their heads, you work hard, you try to achieve as much as you can, you learn as much as you can. It definitely shaped me into the man I am today. My father, he did it all first off. It’s kind of hard to explain what he did. During my lifetime, he owned gas stations, he’s done all types of things, but during my lifetime, he drove a cab first. He drove a cab in Chicago, then he wound up went into medallion. Medallion is the right to have a cab in Chicago. A friend of his wanted medallion, but he couldn’t afford to put it on the street, so my father bought his medallion. So now he had two cabs. He slowly put together where he at one point owned 11 cabs. He was a jack-of-all-trades, he did it all. We had a restaurant for a year or two. My pops, he would just work hard, get it out there, try to accomplish it.

If it fails, get backup. Try to figure out another way to accomplish another goal. He always told us, if you can, don’t work for anybody, work for yourself. I’ve always had that in my mind, but of course I haven’t been able to achieve considering it’s kind of hard to be on a team and work for yourself. I’m trying to figure that one out now.

Did you experience any racism growing up?

I feel like at some level, you can always question the way someone treated you, is it some form of racism or prejudice, but you don’t truly know. I found social media, that’s a wild experience. Most of my racism is through … I don’t really count that though. I haven’t experienced much racism that I can confirm in person. No one has called me out my name in person. It’s been more like you’ve had this feeling. And that this person could have been a racist or could have been prejudiced, prejudiced against tall people, black people, whatever it may be, Africans or in which box you want to check for me.

Rodney Walker went from foster care to Yale Author reveals his inspirational journey of trauma and grace

The hard-knock life for author, entrepreneur and inspirational speaker Rodney Walker started when he was 5 years old. He spent the next 12 years in Chicago’s foster care system, until he ran away and ended up homeless for several months.

For much of that time, he was failing in school. But he says education saved his life. He attributes the turnaround to two teachers he met along the way.

Walker, now 27, holds degrees from Morehouse College and Yale University and speaks at schools, corporations and conferences about the importance of education, entrepreneurship, mentoring and philanthropy for nonprofit organizations supporting at-risk youth. His 2016 book, A New Day One, is his story on trauma, grace and his journey from foster care to Yale. Walker told his story to The Undefeated’s Kelley Evans.


Education saved my life

I graduated from Morehouse in 2012. I graduated from Yale Divinity School in 2014 with a master’s degree in ethics.

As a result of leaving the foster care system, I lost benefits of independent living. I lost benefits to get college scholarships through the foster care system. I lost all those privileges because of my actions.

When I moved back in with my parents, thinking it was going to be kind of a fairy-tale situation, I realized that my parents were deeply struggling with drug abuse, substance abuse, to the point where they would steal money from me and they would wake me up out my sleep and ask me all these things, and I couldn’t concentrate or focus on school. So I literally had to leave my parents’ house and just basically couch surf at friends’ places, and ended up at a homeless shelter for about three months of my life.

The turning point that transformed my life was when I was in detention. I was in detention like probably once or twice every week. We had a new dean in our high school [ACE Technical Charter High School in Chicago], Michael McGrone Sr., and he was the person that literally focused on the social-emotional aspect of my life experience.

We focused on homework, we focused on studying, we focused on just getting our life together, our academics together, so we can figure it out. But in that detention, he focused on none of that. His main objective was to focus on the social aspect, the post-traumatic stress disorder. He believed that by taking the time and energy to do that we would perform at our greatest. He wanted to hear nothing about excuses and about how I came from homelessness and foster care and things like that. He wanted to focus on how this affected me on an emotional level and on a social level.

He believed that by getting me to that breaking point to forgive and let that stuff go, then I would actually focus on myself and my lifelong learning so it would transform my life. The sacrifice that he made to really put that time and attention into me and these other kids in detention, it came at an incredible price. And most people don’t understand that, and that’s why I hate using the word ‘mentorship’ because it’s so watered down, because mentorship sounds like profession. He sacrificed in his marriage; I mean, he got divorced about a year after the program was over. … He had a wife and two children at the time at home that he, literally, not neglected intentionally but neglected by default because he was so passionate about his work.

The second person before that was a math teacher, Melanie Vaughn. And she took on the mother role that my mother couldn’t be for me because my mother was a struggling drug addict. … My math teacher was the first teacher that ever really gave me the time and attention and the energy and the support that I needed outside of school. So she was my math teacher from 9 to 10:30, whenever my class period was, but after school we would sit in our classroom, we would just talk about things I really wish I would have talked about with my own mother. She was my advisory teacher as well as my math teacher, so I had her at 14 until I graduated high school.

I think what’s overlooked so much is that when people succeed, they always look at the work that they’ve put in without looking on the back end, about the people who put in that honest investment to them, who gave them that love and that time and that energy and that support to get to where they are. I never really emphasize the hard work because hard work is just … I could be working towards anything, but somebody somewhere, and I always remind myself of this, somebody somewhere changed my mind to do what I do today. And when I look back and think back, I think about those people.

The struggle was real

I was struggling all through grade school. I was diagnosed with mild autism in the first grade. And thankfully my mother didn’t allow me to take psychotropic drugs because she didn’t believe in that, so I didn’t. But all throughout my grade school I struggled with reading. … When I was a freshman I had made a 1.3 GPA, then in my sophomore year I had made a 1.6. And that was half the result of just not being able to master the high school material, but the other half of it was because of social-emotional trauma. It was really because I was distracted, because I was coming to school every day, I was walking like a mile and a half to school because I didn’t have bus fare to get to the school from home, despite the fact that I had a foster parent making money from foster care who didn’t invest in transportation for me to get to school.

But the fact also that I went some 10, 11 years without my parents, without my eight brothers and sisters, and I was really sort of devastated by that. And every day when I went to school I was so distracted I didn’t care about the work. So my fail grades were the result of both of those things, not being prepared and not actually caring enough to do the work because I had so many other distractions. My junior year I had a 2.4, so it was the first time in a long time I actually had made over a 2.0 GPA. … And then in my senior year when I met my dean, who did a lot of that social-emotional counseling and trauma recovery kind of work with me, that’s when I was able to literally steel myself, let all that stuff go, let the baggage go, really focus on my learning.

Getting into Morehouse

I earned a couple of scholarships to college, but Morehouse at that time was about a $40,000-a-year institution. I got about $10,000 in scholarship money, and the rest of it I had to get a loan. So I took out a huge loan in my first year. Also, the problem was that I came into Morehouse on academic probation because my grades were so low that I wasn’t eligible for regular admission.

That first year I would say was my hardest year of any academic semester I’ve ever had in school because I came in on a huge learning curve. At that time I don’t know what reading level I was reading at, but I couldn’t master the college material, so I had to take all remedial classes that first semester. And every week I would get calls from my teacher and my dean. They would call me every week, see how I was doing. One time my dean took a trip down to Atlanta to check on me and things like that, and whenever I needed help and support they would call me and make sure I was in the library, or make sure I was with a tutor, and kind of getting myself back together.

Road to Yale

I wasn’t even sure if I would get into Yale. … I kind of put myself out there to take the risk and to just believe that I can do something I wasn’t sure I can do. So that really came as a result of that mentorship piece. Just that breakthrough moment and instilling in me that I can be my best self and I don’t have to live as a byproduct of my post-traumatic stress. I can actually live and triumph in spite of that, and I think that’s really what his biggest goal was in trying to help me through my circumstances.

Chicago then and now

I have a love-hate relationship with Chicago. Actually, I did return back to Chicago to partner with the former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a jobs program for at-risk youth in the city. I’ve been here in Chicago for several months now.

… I love the city for what it can do. Like, what it has the potential to do for young people. But the problems that we have, there is literally a deep sense of hopelessness. … The social and the political climate of this city has taken a toll on the black community in a way that I think most people can’t articulate.

I work in public schools every single day, and I see the toll that it takes when teachers don’t have the materials that they need and when the infrastructure and buildings are being broken down, when kids are not coming to school because of truancy and they’re getting locked up for being truant to class. And child abuse cases are happening at our schools everywhere as a result of single parents who are going through that post-traumatic stress disorder that is unmet, unneeded, because they don’t have the money or the resources to do it, and the kids are literally walking from school back to home, where they’re dealing with all these social systemic elements, for poverty, gang element, drugs, that literally the city refuses to address. But instead they reinvest in our neighborhoods in a way that is counterproductive to hopes and the restoration that young people in these communities need.

Instead, they’ll build facilities that literally can entertain an international market when there’s a huge deficit at home in these neighborhoods that is going unmet and unaddressed. So really I love Chicago with a passion, but I understand that those who are less fortunate are not having their needs met in a very severe way.

Family life

I have eight siblings. I am the fourth youngest; I have a younger brother and two younger sisters.

… My parents were together, and literally their life was kind of just all over the place. I think the main thing that made their life so dysfunctional was obviously their substance abuse and addiction. When we were born, my parents were just making the shift from public housing and they got a place on the West Side of Chicago, which is where I was born. And then they moved from the West Side to the South Side, and they were still dealing with this drug addiction, drug abuse and addiction. And at 5 years old, my father was incarcerated for selling drugs in Chicago, and then that really spiraled into me and my siblings going into foster care at that age. My parents fought in court, but my mother was so emotionally torn that she couldn’t get to the court proceedings, she couldn’t get through the parental classes and the substance abuse classes.

That early half of my experience in foster care was actually with siblings, with relatives of my parents. A combination of their social-emotional trauma, my father’s a byproduct of the Vietnam war, so he was never able to get over his heroin addiction and his post-traumatic stress disorder.

My book – A New Day One

I really wanted to write the book for a couple of reasons. The first reason is because I have been telling my story to young people in schools as early as my sophomore year at Morehouse College. And every time I told my story, people would come up to me and say, “My God, that was really great what you said, I wonder if you have a book.” So that’s really what encouraged me to write the book, because I had been journaling before that, but I’d never had a book. And then I met a publisher a few years later after that, worked with me to write the book.

Retired NFL QB Rodney Peete talks CTE and family in the second season of ‘For Peete’s Sake’ Athletes should get to a doctor now — before it’s too late

When retired NFL quarterback Rodney Peete married actress Holly Robinson (21 Jump Street, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, For Your Love) in 1995, the couple never imagined the impact they’d have on families all over the world.

The power couple is raising four children, one with autism and another with ADHD, while balancing their foundation and Peete’s post-NFL career. And it’s on display for the world to see. On Feb. 18, the Peetes showcased the first episode of the second season of their OWN reality show, For Peete’s Sake, which portrays a glimpse of their life.

The new season picks up right where it left off last season. An MRI exam revealed that Rodney, 50, has lesions on his brain that could be an indicator that the brain trauma from decades of playing football may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Peete played for 16 years in the NFL.

“As soon as they put that face mask on my face and I knew what this was for. I didn’t like it,” Peete said during the show. “I didn’t like feeling that vulnerable. The anxiety of me laying there is me thinking about the worst-case scenario.”

According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes, military veterans and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. The Associated Press reported that the NFL estimates 6,000 former players, or nearly one-third could develop Alzheimer’s disease or moderate dementia from suffering concussions.

Peete shows no symptoms, but the only way to be diagnosed is after a person dies. In an effort to spread the word and learn more about CTE, the Peetes have joined a Harvard University study that examines the health concerns of former football players. According to its website, the Football Players Health Study lists Rodney Peete as a player adviser.

In May 2012, Peete lost good friend and teammate Junior Seau to suicide, related to the effects of CTE.

“Junior and I went to USC together, went to college together,” Peete told The Undefeated. “Very close friends from that moment we were in college together, then obviously went on and had a tremendous NFL career, and we remained friends to the day he died. It was tough, because Junior was a guy, not only in his family but in his immediate circle, was a guy that kept everybody together, kept everybody happy. He did everything for his family. He had a big extended family. He was the big breadwinner in that family. Junior did a lot for the community with charity and philanthropic, and all those things that drove him. Just a great human being and always had a smile on his face. Everything we did with Junior. So when we got word that he had taken his own life, it was a shock. It was a shock to me. As someone that was close to him, I felt a lot of guilt that I didn’t know certain things were going on with him. He was able to mask a lot of those things outwardly, smiling and being happy, everything was OK, when deep down he was extremely troubled. Still to this day, it’s something I think about. It’s very tough to think that we don’t have him here with us right now.”

Drawing on expertise from across the university, the Harvard study is dedicated to understanding the causes of conditions former NFL players face, with the goal of improving their health and well-being.

According to the study’s website, “The Football Players Health Study is working on prevention, diagnostics and treatment strategies for the most common and severe conditions affecting professional football players. We are focused on the integrated health of football players, not solely one concern or condition. Our work is on the cutting edge, pushing innovative ideas forward and turning discovery into therapy. In addition, the study is working to understand the legal and ethical issues that may promote or impede player well-being, and developing responsive recommendations to resolve them. In order to determine what these issues are and what is important to former players, we are gathering input and listening to them.”

Peete added that retirement is an emotional time in a player’s life, and his thoughts of dealing with brain trauma takes its toll.

“You go through an emotional roller coaster when you’re done playing football. Even if you look at it as, ‘Oh, I only played pros for three years.’ You look at most guys’ life that even had an opportunity to play professional football, it didn’t start there. It started when they were 8, 9 years old, so they’ve been doing it for a long, long time. That transition is very tough.

Rodney Peete #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a pass against the Detroit Lions during an NFL Football game September 15, 1996 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Peete played for the Eagles from 1995-98.

Rodney Peete #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a pass against the Detroit Lions during an NFL Football game September 15, 1996 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Peete played for the Eagles from 1995-98.

Focus on Sport/Getty Images

“Then you’ve got the guys that abused their body along the way, and the effects of that are going to come back and haunt you later in life. We dealt with that in that conversation. Certain guys, as athletes, especially as men, we believe that you never let them see you sweat. We don’t want to talk about our injuries. We don’t want to talk about you can’t sleep at night. We don’t want to talk about we got headaches. We don’t want to talk about something maybe going on with my brain, I can’t remember or I’m not feeling so well. We kind of dust it under the rug because we were taught to go back and play hurt, and play at all costs.”

The show’s trailer for the remainder of the season shows support groups the Peetes participate in with other NFL players and their families.

“It’s really to bring everybody under the tent — and everybody’s different. Especially when guys retire, we go through a bunch of emotions,” Peete said. “That happens whether you played 16 years like me or played three years or played two years.”

Peete said the conversations he had with other players during the show were to encourage them that it’s OK to talk about everything involving CTE, including early intervention, early treatment and early diagnosis that they may not consider until it’s too late.

“That’s what we want to avoid with a lot of former players and even some of the current players,” he said. “We want to really address the former players in a way that, look, it’s OK to talk about these things. We’re all going through them. Let’s get a diagnosis early so we may be able to treat it so you’re not dealing with something major when you’re 60 or 70 years old.”

Peete said he’s in a good place in his life.

“I had to have the ups and downs,” he said. “I think you’ve got to have some failures. You’ve got to have some bad times. How you overcome them is what makes you who you are. I’m proud of being married for 22 years and have four great kids. By no means nobody’s perfect and it hasn’t been rosy the whole way. We’ve fought and had some knock-down, drag-outs and had our issues, but the bad times help the good times and vice versa.”

The intimate show follows the couple and their children — twins RJ and Ryan Elizabeth, Robinson and Roman. The most unique part about their life is RJ, who began displaying signs of autism when he was 2 years old. He is now is transitioning into adulthood and working in his first job with the Los Angeles Dodgers, learning to drive and interacting with his family, while his twin sister Ryan is heading off to college at New York University.

The Peetes seek to inspire other families by bringing attention to their life.

“Holly went out and pitched it,” Rodney Peete said of the inception of the show. “Oprah came calling and said, ‘No, you can’t do it anywhere but us. I chronicled your whole lives and before you had kids and you guys got engaged and the whole deal. You don’t need to be anywhere but on our station.’ So that’s how that happened.”

They also wanted to make sure families see the positive side of reality television.

“When you hear the word reality, and in your face so hard, you automatically think about the bad stuff, flipping tables, trash and ghetto,” Peete said. “We all like those sort of things, they’re guilty pleasures to watch, but I don’t want to be a part of it. So when we had an opportunity to do something positive, and it’s real, too, and there’d be something positive along the way, I was OK with it.

“We wanted certain things to be portrayed, so we’d deal with the real issues of a black family, have teenage boys and a teenage daughter and one going off to college and all that, and one with autism. We deal with the reality of life, and we tackle it head-on. I think that’s the big thing.”

Peete said that after about a week, the family forgets the cameras are around even though there are 30 people in the house.

Besides dealing with the 19-year-old twins, with the help of Holly’s mother, Dolores, Holly and Rodney also prepare to homeschool Robinson and Roman as they continue to tackle the surprises of raising teens.

Whether they’re advocating for autism awareness, Parkinson’s disease or positive social change through the HollyRod Foundation, navigating the trials of raising kids in today’s world, or just trying to keep their marriage sexy and successful, there’s always something dramatic happening behind the scenes with the Peetes.

Rodney Peete, who is a co-founder of the HollyRod foundation, is best known for his leadership on the field. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from University of Southern California, where he was a first-team All-American quarterback, winner of the 1988 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for best senior quarterback and the 1988 Pac-10 Player of the Year. During his 16 successful seasons in the NFL, Peete was named to various All-Rookie teams, led two different franchises to the playoffs, had a winning record as a starting quarterback and retired after his NFC championship season and Super Bowl XXXVIII appearance with the Carolina Panthers.

Peete went on to co-host The Best Damn Sports Show Period on Fox. He can also be seen hosting a variety of NFL and college preview and recap shows for Fox, Fox.com and ABC’s Sports Zone. In March 2010, Peete authored his first book titled Not My Boy!: A Father, A Son, and One Family’s Journey with Autism. Peete is a member of the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, the USC Hall of Fame, and serves on the board of governors at his alma mater.