Sun, Dec 03, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Cleats to support Special Olympics, others

AP, ENGLEWOOD, Colorado

For most of his NFL career, Jamaal Charles hid the challenges of his childhood when he was badgered over his reading disability before finding a lifeline in the Special Olympics.

“I feel like I was an outcast; I was left out because so many people made fun of me, but when they saw me play sports, there was just something about me where people came to me and just stopped talking about me and started being more of my friend,” Charles said in an interview.

Once he gained confidence by competing in the Special Olympics, the teasing stopped and the tutoring began. Charles set out to prove wrong the doubters who said he was not smart enough to get into college and would never play professional football.

“I had to fight all my life to prove to people that I can do those things,” said Charles, who is to pay tribute to the Special Olympics this weekend as one of 1,000 players who is to lace up customized cleats reflecting their charitable endeavors as part of the league’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign.

That is double the amount of players who participated in the inaugural effort last year.

The Special Olympics “was the drive that sparked me, that led me to do all those things, and look where I’m at now,” said Charles, who joined the Denver Broncos this season after nine years in Kansas City where he is the Chiefs’ all-time leading rusher and boasts the highest career rushing average (5.5 yards) in NFL history.

Charles’ reddish-orange cleats honor the Special Olympics that changed his life when he was 10 years old and won a gold medal in track and field. More importantly, he came away with a newfound confidence and, eventually, acceptance.

“People that have a chance to compete in the Special Olympics, they build up confidence — confidence that we don’t have in the classroom, confidence we don’t have around ‘normal’ people,” Charles said. “You believe in yourself.”

Charles began to share his story two years ago when he gave a speech at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics in Los Angeles in front of more than 60,000 people.

“A lot of people where happy that I did it. They were surprised. They didn’t know my history or my story about the Special Olympics,” Charles said. “I competed in the Special Olympics when I was young in middle school and that’s when [I realized] that I can do something in life.”

Other players supporting the Special Olympics with their calico cleats this weekend include Aaron Rodgers, Tyreek Hill, Joe Flacco and Kareem Hunt.

Von Miller is wearing two different cleats: One has eyeballs and eye charts on it to promote his foundation “Von’s Vision,” which provides eyewear to underprivileged kids, while the other is a black and purple cleat with detachable butterfly wings on the back in honor of a childhood friend who was diagnosed with lupus.

Domata Peko’s specialized shoes support Save the Children and feature a Syrian flag.

“The reason I put Syria on here is because my wife is from Syria and they are going through a really tough time right now,” the Broncos nose tackle said. “Save the Children has been doing a good job with the refugees that are over there. I just wanted to show some love to the children.”

Derek Carr of the Raiders is using his cleats to talk about his son, Dallas, who was born with an intestinal abnormality, while other players, including Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, are to use their cleats to showcase social justice issues.

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