Football players are often asked about their 'why.' Why do they play? Who do they play for? What's the driving force behind their desire to excel in this increasingly demanding profession?
While each individual's 'why' might may differ, this weekend provides every player with an opportunity to showcase what's truly important to them. It's 'My Cause My Cleats' weekend in the NFL as players design and display their own individual cleats in support of a charity, foundation, or general awareness for a cause that means something special to them.
On the latest edition of Drive Time with Travis Wingfield, I caught up with long snapper Blake Ferguson and linebacker Sam Eguavoen as they told their stories.
Blake Ferguson - Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
"My mom loves to tell the story all the time … the moment that I was diagnosed with Type-1 back in 2011." Ferguson said. "As we're headed to the hospital from the doctor's office she caught me looking at my phone at famous athletes with Type-1 Diabetes because I wanted to know that I could achieve playing football at the highest level with this disease.
"I found people like Jay Cutler. I think Mark Andrews from the Ravens has it. There are an incredible number of people who had done amazing things beyond just football with this disease and I want to hopefully at some point add my name to that list."
Ferguson is using his experience as a wide-eyed youth looking up to athletes with Type-1 Diabetes to help give back to children who are currently in the same position he was in one decade ago.
"I've been working with JDRF since I was diagnosed with Type-1," he said. "They do a ton of work with athletes but also your everyday child that's diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes. Just inspiring the young people who have unfortunately been diagnosed with this and just encouraging them that there's nothing they can't do with this disease. They raise an incredible amount of money every year for research to hopefully at some point to find a cure."
"When I was in high school and college, I had countless moms and dads reach out to me and ask me to talk to their son or text with whoever has Type-1 or just needs a little bit of encouragement. When you're diagnosed with this disease, it can be detrimental to your mindset and your confidence because you don't know what the future holds."
Sam Eguavoen – The Epilepsy Foundation
Eguavoen's brother Owen suffers from epilepsy, which causes debilitating seizures without a moment's notice.
"He has random seizures. He can't control it. He doesn't know when it's coming," Eguavoen said. "For years now in my family, we've been trying to figure out the right medicine for him. We've been to multiple neurologists just trying to figure out how we can get these seizures to stop and we still haven't found the answer yet."
"It's a common thing. A lot of people have seizures. Other people are more controlled. They can drive and do things like live a regular life. My brother can't. He can't get behind a wheel. He can't be on a football field because at any moment it can happen. It's a common thing but I feel like there's not enough awareness about it. I feel like if we could just raise the awareness, maybe we could find the right neurologist who can find the perfect medicine to help him control his seizures."
For Eguavoen, the intersection between his 'why' and this weekend's opportunity to raise awareness for the dangers of epilepsy is stark.
"Every day I step on the field, I feel like I'm doing it for him," he said. "I'm trying to live the life that he always wanted to live. If I could trade places with him, I would. I just want him to be able to live a normal a life – the life we all take for granted. Even just for one day."
With the platform afforded to Eguavoen, his hope is simply to raise more awareness.
"Donations, tweets, just raise awareness," he said. "We raise so much awareness for some diseases and I just feel like we can do the same for all the other diseases in the world. If we all just come together, raise awareness, tweets, posts, hashtags, then we could find the answer for it. And not just for my little brother but for everybody. Michael Deiter, I think his sister has epilepsy too.”
Eguavoen's cleats will reflect Owen's favorite television show, as designed by Sam's oldest brother.
"My older brother – he's an artist – he actually made the cleats I'm wearing," he said. "It's Avatar: The Last Airbender, that's my little brother's favorite TV show."
More Dolphins My Cause My Cleats
Safety Eric Rowe - International Justice Mission
"I'm supporting a group called International Justice Mission. They focus on child slavery in different parts of the world where either human trafficking, child slavery, sex trafficking all of that. They focus on saving those kids. There's a lot of stuff going on in other countries that doesn't really get in the news too much so I want to support them on my cleats."
Safety Clayton Fejedelem - Pat Tillman Foundation
"I'll be wearing Pat Tillman's foundation. A lot of people know the story unfortunately with what happened to him overseas. I'm a big advocate for our military. I support our military and I love what the foundation does with scholarships and things like that … so that's what I'll be rocking."
Cornerback Nik Needham - 88 Blessings
"Allen Hurns, I did his last year too, 88 Blessings. Single mothers in mind. It's red and pink for love. It's got some hearts on there and then my mom's name. I'm just going to be out there representing her. She means the world to me. She grinds every days. She's very protective of me … I love her. She pushes me every day. That's why I go out there and play for her. My dad too."