Many football fans consider the sport itself to be a work of art. The Pittsburgh Steelers have shown some examples over the years, from toe-tapping catches on offense, to tossing the quarterback to the ground on defense. Over the past few years, players have had an opportunity to showcase their art in a different way, namely their footwear. The “My Cause My Cleats” campaign gives players across the league a unique and creative way to show their support of various charities and causes that mean a great deal to them.
The “My Cause My Cleats” campaign was first introduced in the NFL during the 2016 season. Since then, it has seen steady growth each year. For the 2021 season, the NFL had more than 900 players league wide showcasing their custom cleats, with hundreds of charities and causes being represented. The rapid success of this campaign hasn’t really come as a shock to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as he said:
“One of the great NFL traditions is how our players passionately support important causes in their communities and around the globe every year. They are incredibly creative by nature, so we are not surprised how they are seizing the opportunity this week with inspiring expressions of their charitable commitments on their cleats, online and through social media.”
Players usually start sharing images of their cleats during the week before the game in which they’re worn, as well as the stories behind them on social media, using the hashtag #mycausemycleats.
The Steelers had a lot of players participate in this past season’s campaign. One design came from star linebacker TJ Watt as he partnered with the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. When asked about why he picked this specific organization, Watt responded saying:
“I have worked with Children’s Hospital for a couple of years now. I just wanted to find a way to connect. I love just trying to brighten kids’ days. They are going through so much. The families are going through so much. I might not think I am a special guy to say hello to, but it might be different for kids who are going through their own battles and these families as well. Anything we can do to brighten their day.”
For his cleats, defensive tackle Cam Heyward went with a design to honor his late father, Craig ‘Ironhead’ Heyward, an 11-year NFL veteran who was first diagnosed with cancer in 1998. Craig would unfortunately lose his battle with brain cancer in 2006. Cam continues to not only honor his father’s memory, but also honor all of those who are continuing to battle brain cancer as he supports The Heyward House and the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation, who are fighting to find a cure.
Pittsburgh linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III also decided on a cancer related design for his cleats as he chose to support Breast Cancer Awareness. Ever since he was drafted by the Steelers in 2019, Gilbert has become a big advocate for the cause:
“My mom is a breast cancer survivor; my great aunt was a two-time breast cancer survivor,” said Gilbert. “It’s close to my heart because it’s right here at home. I just want to do anything I can. I just want to do everything I can for cancer and breast cancer and help any way I can.”
Trey Edmunds went a different route with his cause as the running back decided to bring attention to Mental Health Awareness. Edmunds understood that mental health has become increasingly talked about over the years, and he knows that it has been discussed more in the realm of sports, particularly in the NFL:
“It is just bringing awareness overall. Just bringing awareness to mental health overall,” said Edmunds. “Recently I’ve just been introduced to mental health, within the last five years, and I’ve been able to see the importance of it in the world of sports and also everyday life. I see how people deal with mental health battles or how they fight mental health battles, how it weighs on people. People not being able to identify it, knowing they have problems and knowing they’re fighting things, but not being able to identify what exactly they are fighting, what exactly the problems are.”
These four designs are just a small sample of all the different cleats and causes that were on display during the 2021 season. The artists behind this year’s concepts were Vinnie Candelore and Cody Sabol, both of whom are local to the Pittsburgh area and have been doing customization work for a few years. While the Steelers official website has a full photo gallery displaying all the different cleats, Candelore has a behind the scenes video on his YouTube channel, detailing the process that went into making each athlete’s design a reality. Hopefully the duo will be involved in the campaign for the 2022 season.
What do you think about the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign? Do you have a favorite design from this past season? Be sure to tell us down below in the comment section.