The Special Olympics have been an important part of Joe Haden's life ever since he was seven years old.
From that point forward, the Browns cornerback was a regular attendee, as he watched his brother Jacob run sprints and play bocce ball on an annual basis. Haden cheered on his younger brother with the same passion Jacob does for him on football Sundays in Cleveland.
"Seeing those kids being out there just enjoying life, being so free-spirited, it really touched me," Haden said. "It just shows why I just want to be involved and show those kids I'm out there, too and I'm playing for y'all. It really means something to me and my little brother being a part of it.
"It's something special."
Haden's connection to the Special Olympics grew stronger Tuesday, when he was named a Global Ambassador for the movement. He's the first American professional football player to ever hold the title and he's already gotten to work by promoting it on ESPN's SportsCenter from Super Bowl XLIX media row in Glendale, Arizona. Throughout the week, he will team with Vanessa Robles, a Special Olympics athlete, to speak about the movement to fans and media outlets.
Haden will serve as a co-captain for the recently announced Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America, which begins May 25. The relay will begin in three spots -- Augusta, Maine, Washington D.C. and Miami -- and converge in Los Angeles, the site of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games. Figure skater Michelle Kwan, NBA star Damian Lillard and WNBA star Elena Delle Donne are the other captains.
"I'm truly honored to be the first NFL player to be a Special Olympics ambassador," Haden said. "It's just something I knew I needed to do and it makes me feel good. I just want to raise awareness and just get other people involved in Special Olympics."
Among the other Special Olympic Global Ambassadors: Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco, Nadia Comaneci, Scott Hamilton, Padraig Harrington, Yuna Kim, Yang Lan, Yao Ming, Ricardo Montaner, Dikembe Mutombo, Hidetoshi Nakata, Apolo Anton Ohno, Michael Phelps, Hannah Teter, Vanessa Williams, Hidetoshi Nakata and Yang Yang.
Jacob Haden, who is five years younger than Joe, has a cognitive disorder that limits his language and speech. The two brothers are incredibly close and recently had their relationship profiled in an emotional ESPN feature.
"He's one of the coolest kids you'll ever meet," Haden said. "Loves bocce ball, loves girls, loves having a good time. He's my heart and soul man. I play for him. I really like to get involved with the Special Olympics because it makes him so happy."