In 2013, Brandon Marshall, then with the Chicago Bears, wore green shoes in a game to show his support for mental health awareness. He was fined $10,500. In 2015, William Gay of the Pittsburgh Steelers wore purple cleats to draw attention to domestic violence. He was fined $5,787.
If they were to do the same thing during Week 13 of the current NFL season, they wouldn’t get in trouble. They would be celebrated.
For the first time ever, the NFL will not only allow but also encourage its players to display a charitable cause on their feet in early December. While this one-week-only move is coming in the midst of numerous player national anthem protests, it is not a reaction to it, the league said.
“I know there will be people who will say we came up with this idea yesterday because of what’s happening around the national anthem,” Anna Isaacson, NFL senior vice president of social responsibility, told USA TODAY Sports.
“That’s not the case at all. This is an opportunity we’ve been talking about and planning for more than a year. There are hundreds of players throughout the NFL who are deeply passionate about their causes and charities, and we’ve heard directly from them asking if there could be an opportunity to give some life to the causes they care about. So we asked ourselves, how can we showcase what these players are passionate about, the causes and charities they are interested in?”
The answer was the cleats.
With nearly two months to go, 428 players have signed up to wear shoes that highlight a charity, the league said. The Players’ Tribune, an online media platform for professional athletes, is vetting the charities and also publishing stories about the players and their causes as well as player bios in the form of electronic player cards.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis said he will be wearing red cleats featuring the logo of his Defending Dreams Foundation, which works with children in need. He is hopeful that a handful of his teammates also will wear red shoes that day in honor of his cause.
"I think it's very important to look around the league and see all the good work that guys are doing that doesn't get enough attention,” he said over the phone. “Things that make news are when a guy gets in trouble. There are so many good things that never get out there, never get publicized. I know a lot of guys are excited to take part, whether you have your own charity or are honoring someone else's. It will be nice to see there will be a platform for the good things."
If some NFL players don't participate, that's fine.
"We don’t have the expectation that every player will be supporting a cause in the same way or even have found a cause yet that they are passionate about,” Isaacson said. “But we are very aware of the millions of eyeballs watching these games, so just think about how many stories, social issues and causes are going to come to light with this campaign.”