This is the cover story of the November 17 issue ofGameday Magazine,which can be found at the Lincoln Financial Field Pro Shop as well as Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets this weekend.
Football is so much more than just a game.
As NFL players, we are truly blessed with the platform that we have. It gives us an opportunity to positively impact others' lives in so many ways, and sometimes those we meet bring us just as much inspiration in return.
Lukas "The Dutch Destroyer" Kusters. Landon Solberg. Lily Walker.
Those are the names of three brave children who have had that type of impact on me. Before each game, while sitting at my locker, I slide three bracelets honoring each of them onto my left wrist, along with my QB wristband. It's a ritual of mine that centers my mind and gives me a brief, simple moment of spiritual reflection. It's a constant reminder of the bigger picture and why I play this game.
I had the pleasure of meeting Lukas, whose bracelet reads "Dutch Destroyer" and "Live Like Lukas," when I was going into my second season in 2017. Lukas, who battled a rare form of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, had one wish, and that was to meet me. That was a powerful experience spending time with him. His courage and his strength really struck me emotionally.
Lukas passed away about two weeks after we met, just four days after his 10th birthday. He is buried in my jersey. If that's not a wake-up call to the platform that we have, I don't know what is. It made me realize how fortunate we are to be role models and how we can't take that responsibility lightly.
The second bracelet is for Landon, whose battle with brain cancer ended exactly two months ago Sunday, and it reads "Landon's Light." I got to know Landon and learn about his story through my foundation's Camp Conquerors program in North Dakota, which is a summer camp for children battling physical ailments or illness. I still remember jumping in the water and messing with these kids by knocking them off their paddleboards, and one of them was Landon, who was just having the time of his life. I grew close with Landon's family and invited them to my charity softball game in Philadelphia back in May, and Landon got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Seeing the faith that Landon and his family had through their journey is something I'll never forget. It was so inspiring to see a 12-year-old kid fighting something as serious as cancer and still have that faith through it all. It was incredible seeing him live his life to the fullest, not knowing if he would wake up the next day. But Landon's family knows that he's at peace now, and they will see him again.
Lily's bracelet reads #Lilystrong, and that's an understatement. She was diagnosed with brain cancer back in March. I met her at Training Camp this past summer. We get to meet a lot of kids and teenagers who are battling various ailments, and it's unfortunate that we're meeting them under these circumstances. When you're coming off the practice field, I don't think there's anything you can do to prepare yourself emotionally for some of these encounters.
Her story just stuck with me. Lily is a high school freshman going through cancer, but she is more concerned with helping other people. Talking to her and her family, it was heartbreaking to see someone doing so much good while cancer is trying to drain her spirit. I'm in awe of her, as so much has been taken from her physically, yet she wants nothing more than to give back to others. Wearing her bracelet reminds me that she's fighting, and I hope it brings a smile to her face as much as it does to mine.
As a role model, I want to be intentionally involved, whether that's through my foundation aiming to physically and spiritually nourish people, or just in everyday life. If you really want to be intentional and invest time in others, it's going to take something out of you emotionally. It's tough to see some of the difficult circumstances that people must overcome daily. I try to keep it in perspective. I think of what I can do for them. I can pray for them. I can pray with them. I might not ultimately change the situation, but I can try and put a smile on their faces in those moments.
It's probably one of the hardest things, honestly, to witness the pain that others are enduring, especially with children. It hits you, but it also reminds you that the bigger reason, and bigger purpose, to why we play this game is so much more than wins and losses. It's to make a difference and hopefully leave this world a better place. It's to bring joy to dark places in people's lives.
I want to be there to support them. I want to encourage them. I want to be there for them.
That's why I wear the bracelets. I wear them for Lukas, Landon, and Lily, to let them know that they are out on that field with me. It gives me a greater appreciation for what I do, and really, why I do it.