By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
When Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs laces up for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, he’ll be paying tribute to his dad, who died from heart disease when Diggs was 14.
Aron Diggs never saw his son play high school football, but he nurtured his eldest son’s love for the game, coaching workouts until heart failure made him too sick.
“He did everything whole-heartedly,” Diggs said. “[His death] made me grow up fast in a big way, but not in a bad way.”
Diggs became a father figure to little brothers Trevon and Darez, who followed their big brother into football.
Diggs is one of nearly a dozen players supporting the American Heart Association as part of the NFL’s "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign, which allows players to wear customized cleats to honor a charitable cause.
Now in its second year, about 1,000 players will participate — nearly double from last year, according to the NFL.
Tennessee Titans linebacker Daren Bates will again support the AHA. He lost his mother, a heart transplant recipient, two years ago.
Also wearing cleats for the AHA is Oakland Raiders cornerback TJ Carrie, who had open-heart surgery in high school and frequently visits the hospital where he had surgery to encourage young heart patients.
“They’re in this situation right now where they’re seeing the dark of the tunnel, but at the end of the tunnel, there’s always light,” Carrie wrote on the NFL's website. “I’m living proof of what they’re going through and it gives them joy.”
Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and tight end Gerald Everett also selected heart-related causes for their custom cleats.
Coleman wrote on the NFL's site, “After my mom died from a massive heart attack, it made me focus on my own health more.” In a tweet, posted Nov. 28, he features a photo of his cleats and the word “Momma.”
Everett will focus on high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. “Pay attention to what you need to do to lower your blood pressure,” he wrote on the NFL’s website. “Learn about it and don’t ignore signs because it can turn into something even more serious.”
Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget will also don cleats in support of the AHA. Liuget, whose son Corey Jr. has congenital heart disease, offered encouragement for heart disease patients and families: “To those affected, you are stronger than you know,” he wrote on the NFL’s website.
Other players supporting the AHA include:Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders running back Evan Boehm, Arizona Cardinals center Robert Ayers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Braxton Miller, Houston Texans wide receiver Justin March-Lillard, Dallas Cowboys linebacker
Other cleats taking the field for week 13 of the NFL season will focus on causes related to diabetes, cancer, bullying, racism, human rights and criminal justice reform. Shoe manufacturers and independent artists worked with players to create unique designs.
Players can auction the shoes after their games to raise money for their causes through the NFL Auction site. Diggs, whose shoes also honor his grandmother Betty who died from heart disease, said he’ll donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the AHA.
Diggs isn’t sure what his dad would say about the custom cleats, as he wasn’t a “flashy guy.”
“These [cleats] aren’t too flashy,” Diggs said. “They’re definitely special to me.
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