NFL athletes, Bengals use their platform this offseason

07/19/2014 10:39 AM

Every NFL offseason we see our fair share of stories dedicated to where athletes are partying each week, who has been arrested or which celebrities they’re seen out with. These are the stories that blow up on the internet. The articles, blog posts and tweets about these topics lead to countless page views. When there’s not football being played, this is the information that creates buzz – but what if we re-focused?

What if we instead told the story of Cincinnati’s homeless being handed blankets by NFL stars this past winter? What if we talked about Vinny Rey laying his hands on people in the streets to pray for those struggling in his NFL city? What if Bengals players feeding and loving on over 350 homeless people downtown made bigger headlines than 350 bottles being popped by NFL athletes in Vegas on a holiday weekend? What if we publicly recognized what really matters?

NFL athletes are men of great influence, whether they like it or not. Players from teams across the NFL have come together to train in Cincinnati all offseason, and this group of athletes is taking that responsibility seriously.

The group is training at Ignition APG in Mason, where they each are consistently encouraged to use their platforms. “I try to remind the guys, ‘you have a platform right now. You’re currently in the NFL. It’s different when you retire. It’s different when you say you played 10 years ago.’ I just want the players to understand that the NFL is ‘Not For Long’ and they won’t have this platform forever. I just want them to use it while they have it,” said Ignition Performance Director, Clif Marshall.

Throughout the offseason, the group has included Vinny Rey, Domata Peko, Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, Orson Charles, and Larry Black of the Bengals, as well as, Jackson Jeffcoat (Seahawks), John Conner (Giants), DeQuin Evans (Stampeders – CFL) and Fou Fonati (49ers).

Any player that’s trained there will tell you that Ignition has always focused on more than physical training, but in the past year they’ve taken it a step further. “We’ve always talked about training the body, mind and spirit, but it’s just been over the last 12 months that we’ve been really trying to be intentional with the platform we’ve been blessed with,” Marshall explained. “It’s great that we’re training these high level athletes and we’ve got players on nearly all 32 teams but I feel like we have to be responsible and think ‘what are we going to do with that?’”

As a group, Ignition and their NFL players begun to really use their platform. In the winter, they headed downtown Cincinnati to serve the homeless once a week and support FOCAS Ministries and The Lord’s Gym. They’d feed them hot chocolate or chili, hand out blankets for warmth, and pray with them. As the weather got warmer, they started grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, and set up a PA system for worship music and an opportunity for the players to speak. Many of the players have shared the trials and tribulations they’ve been through. It’s a message of hope – and when it’s coming from an NFL athlete, they listen.

Every person has the ability and responsibility to help and serve others, but as you’d imagine, the homeless people were blown away to see star athletes spend time with them each week. The NFL season is a grind, so no one would blame them for taking it easy in their time off, but these players made the decision to give some of that time to serve others. “They’re grateful to see pro athletes out amongst them on the streets. I think secondly, they open their ears to even more… We all can share the gospel. It’s different when it comes from Vinny Rey’s mouth or Jackson Jeffcoat’s mouth. They really listen and interact with them,’ said Marshall.

Guys who make game-changing tackles on NFL Sundays and sack quarterbacks like Tom Brady are feeding Cincinnati’s hungry. The city’s homeless are hearing the gospel on a weekly basis from some of the Bengals’ biggest stars. These NFL athletes are giving back to the homeless, but they’re being touched too. “Early on, I was like ‘this is great, we’re going to impact these homeless people’… but when we walk away it’s like ‘man, the NFL players have been impacted more than the homeless people.’ That’s the awesome thing about it,” explains Marshall.

There will always be interest in professional athletes partying, but isn’t the impact they’re having more important? We can talk about how incredible and luxurious NFL players’ lives seem, but wouldn’t it be better to talk about other lives that improved because of the actions of a professional athlete?

“Everybody wants to focus on what Johnny Manziel’s doing, the negativity that goes on around the NFL, players getting arrested… a lot of times they tend to look away from the things that pro athletes are doing for other people and serving,” said Marshall.

Sure, Johnny Manziel posted an Instagram picture with Floyd Mayweather and Justin Beiber. He also spent time last week with RBI kids at Fenway Park. Which story got more press?

Yes, a Bengals player was arrested this offseason. He is also part of this group that serves the homeless each week. Which action filled our Twitter timelines?

We can do better. Every media member has a platform. Every person with any kind of social media account has a platform. We can learn a lesson from these athletes. Use your platform.

The past 12 months in Cincinnati, lives have been changed because some NFL players decided to love people and serve others. That’s a story worth telling.

Kaci Kust

Kaci joined cn|2 in May 2012 and is a graduate of Hope College in Michigan where she earned a degree in journalism. After playing basketball in college, Kaci chose to follow her passion for sports and become a sports reporter. In fact, she says if she wasn’t covering athletics for a living, she’d still be up early checking scores and stats. Follow Kaci on Twitter @KaciKustCN2.

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