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If Gridiron Leaders Foundation had to be summarized in only a few words, then “education,” “community athletics”, and “US-China relations” would certainly be at the top of the list. When we at GLF think about why this program was initiated, the answer begins with the personal and professional growth that our founders and team have gained in China. As US citizens living in China and witnessing the impact football has had on communities across China, the opportunity to educate Americans and Chinese on the deeper significance of football worldwide became apparent.

That got us interested in finding out what other people, specifically football players and coaches, do in terms of charitable endeavors. More interestingly, we’re interested in why and how they chose their charity’s focus. What we found out is that like GLF, most charitable work started with things that were a product of their environment or experiences, regardless of their wealth or fame. Whether it be The Jay Cutler Foundation helping diabetic children (Jay is diabetic), or the Donald Driver Foundation helping homeless families get off the streets (Donald grew up homeless at times in his life), or the countless other charities focused on underprivileged children and communities, football players both current and former, as well as coaches, are heavily involved in their passions off the field. Here is a list of just a few of our favorites. You can also check out thegoodinsports.com or looktothestars.org to find out more about athletes and their charitable causes.

Drew Brees
Charity: The Brees Dream Foundation

The Brees Dream Foundation was founded in 2003 with a mission to advance research in the fight against cancer and provide care, education and opportunities for children in need. Breese and his wife, Brittany, founded the Brees Dream Foundation to support cancer patients and research in memory of Brittany’s aunt who died of cancer.

Thomas Davis
Charity: Defending Dreams Foundation

In 2007, Thomas and his wife Kelly founded the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation (TDDDF), a non-profit dedicated to providing and promoting free programs that enhance the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families annually. Since its inception, the foundation has distributed more than $500,000 in aid. The foundation’s cornerstone program, the Youth Leadership Academy, is a 14-week afterschool-mentoring program for low-income middle school students. For these accomplishments, Thomas Davis was named the 2015 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

Warrick Dunn
Charity: Homes for the Holidays

Dunn was raised in a single parent household after his mother—a police officer in Baton Rouge—died in the line of duty before realizing her dream of owning her own home. Dunn’s charity, Homes for the Holidays, was started in 1997, and helps single-parent families make the down payment on a house. It has since helped more than 75 families.

Pat Tillman
Charity: The Pat Tillman Foundation

The Pat Tillman Foundation is a national leader in providing resources and educational scholarship support to veterans, active service members and their spouses. The Tillman Military Scholars program aids all veterans, specifically the ever-growing population of veterans of post-9/11 conflicts.

Hines Ward
Charity: The Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation

The Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation mission is to provide educational programs to help children build confidence and maintain a work ethic that will provide them with the tools to succeed in life. The organization has also branched out and partnered with The Beautiful Foundation in South Korea to help biracial kids facing discrimination in South Korea. This is a personal issue for Ward, who was born in South Korea to an African American father and Korean mother.

Reggie White
Charity: The Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research and Education Foundation

The Foundation was co-founded after Reggie White’s premature death by his wife, Sara, in conjunction with the Sleep Wellness Institute in West Allis, Wisconsin.  Sara White recognizes the role that a sleep disorder – sleep apnea – played in cutting Reggie’s life short, and wants to help people of all economic backgrounds to understand the symptoms and risks of sleep disorders. The foundation provides CPAP therapy equipment to those who might otherwise be unable to secure the needed equipment.

J.J. Watt
Charity: Justin J. Watt Foundation

The J. Watt Foundation provides after-school opportunities for children in the community to become involved in athletics, so that they can learn the basic character traits of accountability, teamwork, leadership, work ethic and perseverance in a safe and supervised environment with their peers. Growing up in small-town American (Pewaukee, Wisconsin), Watt hopes to help kids in communities across America receive the same athletic opportunities that he had a child.

Charles Tillman
Charity: Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation

The Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation is dedicated to providing financial and emotional support for economically challenged families living in the Chicago area. Tillman’s Fund has raised over $1 million towards education in Chicago. Tillman is also invested in promoting global education and recently partnered with Urban Promise, a non-profit education organization based in Camden, New Jersey, that helps children worldwide secure access to education.

Brandon Marshall
Charity: The Brandon Marshall Foundation

The Brandon Marshall Foundation is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Their mission is to serve as a charitable initiative dedicated to encouraging the giving of time, financial resources, and information to improve the collective lives of disadvantaged youth and assist single-parent families.

Andre Johnson
Charity: The Andre Johnson Foundation

In 2003, the Andre Johnson Charitable Foundation, a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, was founded as a way to give back to the community and showcase the positive lifestyles and contribution of professional athletes.

Connor Barwin
Charity: Make the World Better Foundation (MWBF)

Founded in 2013, Make the World Better Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Philadelphia’s youth by providing safe and fun places for artistic and athletic development. Last year’s inaugural event raised more than $185,000 for Ralph Brooks Park in the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philadelphia. Construction at Ralph Brooks Park is slated to be finished this summer.

Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger Foundation

A dog lover himself, Ben Roethlisberger supports K-9 units of the police and fire departments throughout the U.S. The Foundation distributed more than $130,000 in grants to K-9 units around the country during the 2014-15 NFL season and has distributed in excess of $1.3 million since 2007.

John Lynch
Charity: John Lynch Foundation

John and Linda Lynch formed the John Lynch Foundation in August 2000 to provide encouragement and positive alternatives for young people. In a time when violence and irresponsibility seem to be glorified, the Lynches are determined to reach students and instill in them the drive to become effective community leaders.

Peyton Manning
Charity: PeyBack Foundation

Denver Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning established the PeyBack Foundation in 1999 to promote the future success of disadvantaged youth by assisting programs that provide leadership and growth opportunities for children at risk.

Bo Jackson
Charity: Bo Jackson’s Give me a Chance Foundation

Bo’s outstanding athletic career as a Heisman Trophy winner and prolific two-sport professional athlete are a reflection of his belief in the power of sports to transform lives. After retiring from professional sports, Bo completed his college degree and has become a successful businessman.

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