ATLANTA - On Sunday, 32 Atlanta Falcons will be rocking new, custom-designed cleats to raise awareness for organizations and causes they care about most through the My Cause My Cleats campaign.
It's the campaign's fifth year in the NFL, but it's the Falcons' first time designing the cleats in-house, led by AMB Sports and Entertainment senior graphic designers Brittany Davis and Kaila Pettis.
Pettis, who took a Fashion Institute of Technology course on sneaker design in May, said the two women proposed bringing the art direction in house to better tell the Falcons' stories through their cleats.
"Of course that’s something that happens every year, and I thought that would be an awesome opportunity to merge the two and basically connect with the players to tell their stories as well," Pettis said.
Pettis, who's been with AMB Sports and Entertainment for two and a half years, said she typically loves to design retail items like T-shirts or hats, but enjoyed translating her sneaker obsession to her day job.
"We thought we could take My Cause My Cleats and elevate it to a new level," Davis said. "Not just doing the storytelling on what the players tell us, but we could do a little more integrated storytelling. The biggest thing we wanted to do was take on the charge that was kind of placed before us of how we could better connect the community and our players and our fans and the storytelling and tell the story of our players in a different way and in this case using the cleat as the canvas."
More than 1,000 NFL players are participating this year, which the league said is a record since the player-led campaign began in 2016.
The NFL said 20.5 percent of players selected social justice causes, 17 percent selected causes related to youth and education, and 14 percent of players will support health and wellness-related initiatives.
Davis and Pettis said tight end Hayden Hurst and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett were among the most involved in the design process.
"It was just cool to see them excited about it and being a part of the process and taking the time to look at everything. I think overall they were just excited for this opportunity because I don’t know how many of the players had cleats done before," Davis said. "But it was exciting to get feedback, like, ‘Oh Hayden loves his cleats, he thinks these are dope.’ That kind of gets us amped up that we’re doing this right and they’re going to be excited to work with us again."
Pettis said Hurst's cleats, spotlighting mental health awareness along with his foundation, the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation, were her biggest challenge and the ones she can't wait to see on Sunday.
"Of course any time you make something you’re excited to see your baby out in the world, so we’ll be like proud parents in the stands, like, 'Oh my gosh!'" she said.
For Davis, Matt Ryan's cleats — spotlighting March of Dimes and Northside Hospital — were her favorite to work on.
"I think my favorite one, and it’s not just because he’s the quarterback, but Matt Ryan’s, the design, the execution and even his cause, with the children’s hospital and March of Dimes," she said. "I was a preemie, so it has like a personal connection, but then also being able to bring the different organizations he wanted together and execute that on a cleat and then have a personal connection with it, really excited to see him lace those up this weekend."
Below is a list of the Falcons who are participating in My Cause My Cleats, what they are raising awareness for and why.
- Olamide Zaccheaus: Connected Development (CODE), which helps the #EndSARS social campaign happening in Nigeria
- Ricardo Allen: Equal Justice Initiative, which he supported last year and visited in April 2019. Allen is also a member of the Falcons' social justice committee and has a big focus on mass incarceration
- Allen Bailey: Allen Bailey Charities Charity is focused on helping youth in his hometown of Sapelo Island, Ga.
- John Cominsky: Human Sex Trafficking Operation Underground Railroad
- Matt Gono: Ian's Friends Foundation, funding the support of pediatric brain tumor research
- Jaeden Graham: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation because his brother JJ and grandfather Avery have diabetes, and he has done some work with this organization
- Todd Gurley: His M.A.D.E. Foundation, which aims to help physical, social and educational health of kids
- Josh Harris: Features "Lutzie 43" due to his good friend and former teammate Philip Lutzenkirchen, who was killed by a distracted driver at Auburn. Philip's sister, Abby, also works for the Arthur M Blank Family Foundation
- Jaylinn Hawkins: Mental Health America of Georgia
- Matt Hennessy: Shriners Hospitals for Children
- Sterling Hofrichter: Uplifting Athletes, which empowers individual athletes to support the Rare Disease Community by raising money and awareness with their performance. "I chose it because their executive director was the punter at Syracuse a couple years before me and he ended up being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and missed out on the opportunity of playing in the NFL," Hofrichter said. "It is also something Syracuse Football supports and does a charity event/competition for each year."
- Hayden Hurst: Hayden Hurst Family Foundation, which focuses on mental health and suicide prevention
- Grady Jarrett: Grady Health Foundation, Grady Gives and Hughes Spaulding Children's Hospital
- Deion Jones: Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Julio Jones: Supporting social justice and Black Lives Matter with names of victims of systematic racism on the cleats
- Chris Lindstrom: Best Buddies, who he's been a huge supporter of even prior to coming to NFL. His sister is on the autism spectrum.
- Alex Mack: Raising awareness for youth homelessness through Stand Up for Kids. He also provided meals to this organization earlier this year.
- Kaleb McGary: Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and Diabetes Association of Atlanta because his mom, Cassandra, has diabetes and his dad, Justin, has MS
- Sharrod Neasman: Supporting youth empowerment through the Academy of Kings Organization he supported last year
- Foye Oluokun: Lift for Life Academy Organization he supported last year because the Yale product is big on literacy in youth
- Jared Pinkney: Combating sexual and physical violence through the Set the Expectation organization
- Brandon Powell: Autism Speaks
- LaRoy Reynolds: Parents Prosper, because he specifically wanted an organization that helped minority women
- Calvin Ridley: Unstoppable Foundation, which supports education
- Matt Ryan: March of Dimes because his twin sons were in the NICU when they were born. His other cleat features Northside Hospital.
- Matt Schaub: Supporting children with medical needs via Gr8 Hope Foundation and Make A Wish
- Deadrin Senat: Social justice and Black Lives Matter
- Luke Stocker: Diapers for families in need through HappyBottoms
- A.J. Terrell: Social justice and Black Lives Matter
- Laquon Treadwell: Social justice and the National Urban League
- Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: Black Lives Matter and End Qualified Immunity & Fair Immigration Reform Network
- Mykal Walker: Supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault through the Women's and Children's Alliance
- JJ Wilcox: Lupus Foundation of America (Georgia Chapter) because his mother passed away from Lupus
- Blidi Wreh-Wilson: Operation Hope, a non-profit organization providing financial literacy empowerment and economic education to youth and adults
Players have the option to raise funds for their cause of choice through auctioning their cleats on NFL Auction, where 100 percent of funds raised will be donated to the charities they select. Fans may bid on player cleats at NFL.com/Auction and help raise funds for the causes nearest to their hearts.