'Community Champions' In Spotlight On Monday Night

Tonight, the Eagles host Washington in a prime-time showdown on Monday Night Football with both teams looking to keep pace in a tightly contested NFC East race.

It is also an opportunity for the players to showcase the causes that are near and dear to them through the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative. Eagles players will wear customized cleats reflecting their devotion to charitable endeavors during the game.

“I am beyond proud of our players for the level of commitment and dedication they put forth throughout the year, both on and off the field,” Owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “While tonight’s game will shine a bright light on many important causes through My Cause, My Cleats, we should remember that the work they do in serving as community champions is ongoing and happens every day. Our players care deeply about making this world a better place and I am delighted to see so many using their platform to strive for change and raise awareness around the causes they find most important.”

Take a look at the custom cleats the Eagles are wearing for this year's My Cause, My Cleats.

Lurie, along with coaches and front-office staff, will wear customized sneakers of their own to advocate for autism awareness through the Eagles Autism Challenge, which raised over $2.5 million in its first year. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 59 people under 21 living in the United States are on the autism spectrum, making it the fastest growing developmental disorder. For Lurie it is personal. With autism in his own family, Lurie knows his is just one of many families dealing with this condition and has seen firsthand the difference the right resources can make. The 2019 Eagles Autism Challenge is set for May 18.

Here are some of the players' endeavors that will be in the spotlight tonight as well as the stories behind them:

Nigel Bradham: 1 Tackle 4 Change Inc.

In 2016, Bradham started 1 Tackle 4 Change serving single-parent households and at-risk youth within the communities of his playing city and Crawfordville, Florida.

"I looked up the stats and around one in four children come from a single-parent home. That’s where I come from and I feel like it’s a common thing in America," Bradham said. "It’s almost like one of those things that’s the norm. So, I think people lose sight of it and treat it as if it’s normal, so you don’t look into giving these kids an advantage. Those kids need that advantage. They’re coming from one-parent homes. This is the foundation that can help balance it out and just be able to provide mentorships, all kinds of activities. Just giving kids something of whether that’s a father figure or a mother that they’re missing and just trying to do things in that aspect.

"My mom (Rose Rucker) is extremely strong obviously for what she was able to do. Being able to raise two boys on her own, it says a lot. What I’ve done to get here, all goes out to her because of her hard work, toughness, all those things that were instilled into me. I learned that growing up and learned a lot about life through her."

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The mission of The Chris Long Foundation is to support bright futures for communities and the individuals that make up those communities.

"We've got a lot of stuff on one pair of cleats but it's a good thing. It's cool that the league gives guys the opportunity to showcase what they do off the field. I think it's a win-win for everybody," Long said.

"I mean, if you're the league, why don't you highlight how great your players are as people and I think there are so many great people in the league and it gives fans the opportunity to see these are complete people. They're not just athletes, they're not just football players, and it's a cool week because I learn about my teammates and what they're involved in and I'm just blown away by hearing the stories and the backstories of their foundations and what they do or why they care about it. And if it weren't for the cleats, we would just go about our business and we wouldn't know so I think it's really, really cool."

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Zach and Julie Ertz began the Ertz Family Foundation with the mission of spreading hope and love to less fortunate individuals through youth sports, education, and family. The foundation was established in the summer of 2018 and has already made an impact in communities in Haiti, Northern California, and Philadelphia.

It began with a trip to Haiti and an enthusiasm from Zach that was obvious and contagious.

The Ertzes know they have a unique opportunity with their foundation. Julie is a star midfielder for the U.S. Women’s National Team. She was named the 2017 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year and won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015. Zach is a Pro Bowl tight end who caught the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl LII. With their combined following, they can make a huge impact.

“We both understand the platforms that we have right now are very special,” Zach says. “The platform we have now probably isn’t something that we’ll have forever so we feel like we can do a lot of good and doing it together is something that we really wanted to do.

“We didn’t want it to be the Zach Ertz Foundation or the Julie Ertz Foundation. We wanted to do it as the family,” he adds. “We want it to be all-encompassing, we want people to join our family, and hopefully change some people’s lives.”

The Ertz Family Foundation began its work in the Philadelphia area with a $10,000 donation to Kensington High School after the football team lost all its equipment from a break-in. For these early events that established footholds in three communities, the NFLPA named Zach the Week 5 Community MVP and donated $10,000 to the foundation.

The DMAX Foundation is a developing non-profit organization from Radnor, Pennsylvania that works with families and young individuals to provide aid to those dealing with mental illness while also working to end the stigma surrounding them. It has a particular reach on college campuses where DMAX clubs allow students to talk openly about their struggles.

Brooks selected the foundation because of his own battle with anxiety. After being diagnosed at age 27, Brooks understood that mental health is something that is not treated as normally as a physical injury despite being a challenge that plenty of people face. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 40 million American adults, roughly 18.1 percent of the population, are affected by anxiety disorders. Only 36.9 percent of those people receive treatment.

He wants to change that and help young people recognize and understand mental illness.

“It’s extremely important that we can help sooner and maybe not have to go through some of the darker places that mental illness can possibly take you,” Brooks says. “Really just bring awareness to it, normalize it, and let people know that it’s OK to get help.”

Agholor kicked off a year-long reading initiative with the Camden City School District. The Building Reading Muscles partnership will encourage students to meet reading goals throughout the school year.

The wide receiver's cleat has one of his favorite childhood books, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss as well as the quote, "Readers are leaders."

"Ever since I heard that quote, I loved it because we all know knowledge is power," Agholor said. "Well, the people who read the most acquire a lot of knowledge."

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The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) launched its Sideline Racism public awareness campaign in December 2016 to coincide with the NFL’s inaugural My Cause, My Cleats initiative.

"I'm using my platform to bring awareness and say, 'Enough is enough.' I think it's incredible we get to do this every year because what you see out here in the world is sad. It's not just black and white. It's all races, people dealing with all kinds of different things. We need to sideline racism."

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Inspired at a young age by the values and examples set by his father, high school coach, college coach and others, who instilled the importance of hard work and giving back to the community, it is Jenkins’ desire to pass on the guidance, and generosity of those who supported him throughout his career. It is his hope that through mentorship and consistent engagement, these young people will thrive to their fullest potential.

"It’s always a great opportunity for players to be able to advocate for the causes that mean a lot to them. And you look at the various amounts of organization the guys are supporting, I think it’s a great opportunity. For me, especially being able to showcase what we’re doing, especially with my foundation, as well as the Players Coalition, and just being able to spread those messages, the NFL’s platform I think is beneficial to everybody," Jenkins said.

"It’s done in a fun way where it’s digestible to people where you get to customize your own cleats, have some fun with it, but to have the website where everybody can click to learn more about what you’re passionate about and how you’re involved. I think is a great way to engage with our fanbase but also spread the importance of the work guys are doing around the league."

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In 2017, Wentz launched the Carson Wentz AO1 Foundation, which is a non-profit whose mission is to “uplift individuals and communities around the world by demonstrating God’s love for His people.”

Wentz admitted that he felt a special connection with the city from the moment he arrived here. He didn't want to wait to leverage his ability to impact the lives of others. Wentz embraces all of the responsibility that comes with being not just a franchise quarterback, but the Eagles' franchise quarterback.

"It's definitely something I don't take lightly. This game gives you a platform that is second to none and is something I don't take for granted," Wentz said. "I was once that kid looking up at athletes and looking up to them as men on and off the field. I want to be a good role model, be someone that kids can look up to and try to model their walk as a man, their walk in their faith. I just want to ultimately point to Jesus along the way."

In June 2018, Wentz hosted the inaugural AO1 Foundation Softball Game at Citizens Bank Park, which featured a home run derby and game played by his teammates. The event sold 25,000 tickets and raised more than $800,000. Also that evening, Wentz announced the launch of Thy Kingdom Crumb, a food truck service that will freely distribute quality food to people in need throughout the Philadelphia area.

The AO1 Foundation has partnered with Mission of Hope to build a youth multi-sports complex and education center in Haiti, which is now in its second phase of construction. In May 2018, Wentz raised $260,000 during a two-week fundraising campaign for the complex and personally matched that total, resulting in a $520,000 pledge through his foundation.

Wentz also established Camp Conquerers, which is a youth camp created to provide outdoor opportunities to individuals with physical challenges and life-threatening illnesses.

– Additional reporting from Graham Foley was included in this feature.

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