When the Pittsburgh Steelers head to the field in Week 13 for a game against the Washington Football Team, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward will do so while wearing a special pair of footwear. He will honor his father, "IronHead" Craig Heyward, a Pro Bowler in his 11-year NFL career. Craig was diagnosed with brain cancer that ended his career at age 32, and he passed away at 39 years old.
Heyward's cleats, which are a partnership with the V Foundation, will feature his father's face, as well as that of the V Foundation's co-founder, the late Jim Valvano. One shoe also includes the text "Victory Over Cancer." The other sides of his cleats will feature the message of "Don't Give Up." Each season, the league kicks off December by allowing players to represent important causes with the My Cause, My Cleats campaign. The NFL won't fine anyone for their colorful cleats and will instead help them auction off the footwear to raise money for charities.
"Looking back on this collaboration, I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to work together," Heyward said in a statement. "The Jimmy V Foundation represents the perseverance and strive for moving cancer research forward. As the people running the foundation want to make Jimmy V proud, I want the same on behalf of my dad, who also suffered from cancer. Hopefully, we continue to make them proud. It is a true honor to work with the Jimmy V Foundation.
Valvano, the legendary North Carolina State University basketball coach, partnered with ESPN in 1993 to form the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Since its creation, the V Foundation has funded more than $250 million in cancer research grants nationwide through a "competitive process strictly supervised by a world-class Scientific Advisory Committee." According to the organization, all of the direct donations are awarded to cancer research and programs.
The My Cause, My Cleats initiative began in 2016 and is a culmination of collaborative work between the NFL and players across the league. Each year, more than 800 players try to raise awareness for philanthropic organizations and movements by wearing their unique cleats. Once they wear the cleats, the players can raise money for the chosen cause by auctioning off their cleats through the NFL's site, with 100% of the funds going to the cause. To be eligible, the charities must have 501c3 status.