Browns players see their cleats for the first time before Week 13's My Cause My Cleats game.
BEREA — When Browns linebacker and captain Christian Kirksey was 17 years old, he lost his father, Elmer, to a stroke. Two months ago, he learned his aunt was diagnosed with bone cancer.
Kirksey will honor those family members Sunday as part of the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign. And he wants people battling similar tragedies to know they're not alone.
"It just lets people know that we're in it together," he said.
Kirksey and more than a dozen teammates will wear custom-made cleats for Sunday's game against the Chargers in Los Angeles. For his father, he'll wear one cleat representing the National Stroke Association. On the other foot, he'll champion the American Cancer Society for his aunt.
From veterans like Kirksey, Joe Thomas, Jason McCourty, Jamar Taylor and Isaiah Crowell to rookies Myles Garrett, DeShone Kizer and David Njoku, the Browns will cast multiple spotlights on causes, campaigns and foundations that hit close to home.
"Whenever you get a chance to go out on the field and play for a different cause, I think it's pretty cool to have something significant, something that means a lot to you," Kirksey said, "because real life outside of football, a lot of things happen to players, players' family members, people they're associated with. I just think it's a cool idea where players can give back and show awareness and show people that they care."
Here are some, but not all, of their stories.
— When wide receiver Sammie Coates was a sophomore at Auburn, he formed a close friendship with a young girl named Kenzie Ray. Coates was moved by her story and has been in her life ever since that meeting. Coates, who said he remains in contact with Ray on a daily basis, plans on honoring her fight and the larger struggle against childhood cancer with his cleats.
"I didn't know so much about it until I went to go visit her in the hospital, a children's hospital in Alabama, and I saw so many kids, so many young kids, that don't get to leave the hospital for weeks and months," Coates said. "Just being there and seeing that, I remember one girl, she was 16 years old and she couldn't go to her prom, like, that's something every girl dreams of is their prom and I don't think a lot of people know how much they go through."
— Spencer Drangowas a fifth-grader when he discovered he was dyslexic. The second-year offensive lineman will shine on a light on the Dyslexia Foundation, painting the learning disorder as a metaphor in overcoming obstacles throughout life.
"It's a pretty common learning disability that affects kids and really people of all ages as they're growing up," he said. "If you don't know how to handle it, it can put you behind in school and it's kind of discouraging for some kids because in one area, they could be really smart. For me, it was math. Math was no trouble at all but when it came to language arts and reading I was falling behind a little bit and I didn't know why."
Drango entered a program that re-taught him how to read and write in a different way. "That was really the biggest thing that helped me is, just because you can't do something one way, there's a million ways to skin a cat as the saying goes," he said. "It helped me with perseverance because if one thing doesn't work, try it again, try it again, try it again."
Take a look at the causes supported by the Browns for 2017's My Cause My Cleats campaign.
— One of fullback Danny Vitale'sbest friends from Northwestern served as a Navy SEAL for 10 years. That offered Vitale more than enough inspiration to support the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps military and first-responders and their families reconnect after deployments, military involvement or time spent serving those in crisis. Vitale's friend introduced him to Taya Kyle, the wife of the late Chris Kyle, a decorated Navy SEAL and author of the bestselling autobiography, American Sniper.
"I had a buddy who's gone through multiple tours, been in Afghanistan, been in Iraq and all that, and when they come back, it's hard for those guys to get back into old lives, their normal lives, and there's a little bit of a disconnect between them and their spouse, them and their family," he said. "They send them on retreats, help them go to counseling and groups to help them reconnect and find that person they used to be. And since I have a friend that served and has experienced some of those things it was near and dear to me."
— Tight end Randall Telferchose to support Boo2Bullying, which hopes to eradicate bullying, intolerance and discrimination while promoting education and diversity. "It's a big issue, something that's being overlooked. There's a lot of kids hurting themselves because of low self-esteem, low-confidence due to bullying and it's something that, me personally, I've seen firsthand when I was growing up," Telfer said.
"I've had some family members experience it and it's terrible when you have somebody you love and you see them that low. When they feel that low because of what somebody else said or the way somebody else treated them."
— When rookie offensive lineman Zach Bannerwas drafted, he wasted little time in launching the B3 Foundation, a nonprofit he founded to support youth development and education that "specializes in the three areas that mean most to me: Tacoma, Washington, where I grew up; Los Angeles, California, where I went to school and USC and Guam, my home island, my mother's home island."
Banner, a fourth-round draft pick, was the first player from the island to be drafted. He wants to use his platform to help as many people as possible. "It means a lot to the people there, so I wanted to dedicate my first rookie pair to them," he said.
Kirksey, who has been a leader for the Browns on and off the field, said he's eager to represent something bigger than himself Sunday.
"It just shows you everybody has different problems but you don't run from it, everybody's trying to help each other out, keep each other encouraged," he said, "so I think what the league has allowed us to do is something special."