Exactly one month ago, defensive end Chris Long announced that he was using his first six game checks from this season to fund a pair of seven-year scholarships to a school in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.
That was a tremendous gesture in its own right, but he knew back then that there was even more in store. He unveiled on Wednesday that he is giving the final 10 game checks to four nonprofit organizations that provide educational opportunities to children in Philadelphia, Boston, and St. Louis - the three places he's played in his pro career.
Long is the first player in NFL history to offer an entire season's worth of game checks for charity.
"I’ve been able to make a lot of money playing a game. At the end of the day, it’s my 10th year so you don’t know how much longer you’re going to have the platform to do something like that and for me to give my game checks hopefully it rallies fans to work toward a match," Long said.
"I think education’s something that’s always been really important to my wife (Megan) and me. We’ve funded scholarships in our hometown but we wanted to do something that was on a larger scale and in some of the cities that have been so gracious and welcoming to me as a player over my 10-year career."
The money from the final 10 game checks will benefit Summer Search Philadelphia, Summer Search Boston, College Bound, and The Little Bit Foundation.
In addition, Long kicked off the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign. Each of the four organizations selected by Long will receive a $100,000 donation. Fans and business are encouraged to join Long by pledging a recurring gift and the city with the most commitments will receive an additional $50,000 from Long.
"For me, I always think about all the causes you can get involved in and when you think about kids, they don’t have a choice," Long said. "They don’t have a choice in their circumstance, their educational opportunity. When I was a kid I had everything I could ask for from an educational standpoint and I probably took it for granted and I always regretted that.
"As I’ve gotten older in the league and had more of an opportunity to interact with the youth in the cities that I’ve played in, I've realized that the playing field is not even. And for me, the equity standpoint of it through opportunity and increasing resources for certain kids that are underserved is big."
Long has provided scholarships in the past, but decided after the tragic events in his hometown back in August to use his platform to not only bring awareness to education inequality but motivate others to help.
"For one, I think with the Charlottesville donation it was kind of about people from Charlottesville standing up for our city and showing there’s a lot of good and trying to promote equity within our community which is a wonderful place but kind of got dragged through the mud a little bit with everything that happened in the summer.
"In a couple of years, (if I’m) sitting on the couch I can donate money to whatever I please but my platform is nonexistent then. I can’t secure matches, I can’t rally fans to try to get behind it, and I look at it as like an investment in youth and the charity of your choice because as players you have a chance to see your investment really grow because you have fans behind you, the support system and businesses and people that are interested in what you’re doing. If I’m just a regular guy donating a bunch of money, it probably stops right there," he said.
Long has learned, however, the downside of taking a public stance on an issue.
"It is hard to put your stuff out there. It’s always easier to do it quietly but at the end of the day, you’re not doing it certainly for the attention of, ‘Look at me, this is what I’m doing,'" Long said. "I really believe that setting what is hopefully an example to fans that will inspire other people with the means to help and secure more funds. It’s kind of a necessary evil having your face out there doing it but at the same time it gives you a chance to grow your investment in our youth or whatever you decide to lend your assistance to as a player."
Last month, Long participated in a day-long series of meetings that included Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and teammates with city officials to learn about social inequality. On Tuesday, Long and safety Malcolm Jenkins went to New York City to talk with league executives and owners about what the teams can do to help the players' causes.
“I think it’s great when players get together with owners, whether it’s their own team or a group of owners," Lurie told The MMQB. "The communication’s great, you really learn where everyone is coming from, and you get to understand these are human issues."
Long reiterated Lurie's point that this matter impacts everyone.
"It was good. It was productive. I think we appreciate the owners sitting down with us again and talking and hopefully we’ll have more talks," Long said. "I think these are our issues as a league and as an American, I think the owners aren’t exempt from that, the players aren’t exempt from that, and we’re just having a dialogue and hopefully it continues."
For more information or to get involved with the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign, click here.