The Biggest Hearts in the NFL

The past couple of seasons have made it tough to be a football fan, at least if you’ve got a conscience. Even the most ardent fans can’t ignore conclusive evidence of brain damage associated with playing the game. More than a handful of ex-players continue to refuse the NFL’s settlement offer. There were charges of domestic abuse. Then came Deflategate.

The first thing to remember is the NFL has changed its rules to minimize head injury. There are penalties — and not just in yardage — for players who repeatedly or egregiously violate these rules. Don’t believe us? Go see for yourself. It’s never too late to buy a couple of tickets to the next game.

The second thing to remember is there are players who care about the communities where they grew up and played. The following are just a few of the many players who are giving back to their communities in a big way:

Warrick Dunn

NFL and Philanthropy


Former Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Bucs star Warrick Dunn, now part owner of the Falcons, is one of the best-known NFL givers. says he “set the golden standard” for continuing philanthropic work long after retirement. Dunn began Homes for the Holidays — now Warrick Dunn’s Charities — in 1997 to help single parents find affordable homes. Today, the group raises millions of dollars to pay for food, furnishings and other items to help stabilize families. And they still find homes: the charity delivered its 145th home in October 2015.

Doug Flutie

Doug Flutie is another great player who makes charitable contributions. The former New England QB and Heisman Trophy winner launched the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation in 1998 with his wife to honor their son Doug, who has autism. The Foundation funds grants to groups that provide a range of services to families caring for a family member with autism, including technologies and recreational activities. It also supports organizations that deliver education and advocacy services.

Even More Players

There’s an impressive list of NFL players who give back and continue to do so long after retirement. Check out Kick Them Back, which lists philanthropies started by NFL and NCAA stars. Many of these foundations live on after their founders’ death. For example, The Pat Tillman Foundation remains popular in Arizona, where it funds education scholarships for military veterans.

Here are a few more current NFL leaders living their convictions:

  • The Cardinals’ much-loved Larry Fitzgerald donated $1,000 per catch and $10,000 per TD catch and Cards win to his PLEDGE IT campaign during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Fitz, whose mom died from breast cancer, also donated $0.25 for each new Twitter follower.
  • Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams funds mammograms for women in memory of his mother, who died in 2014. After the league informed him he can’t wear pink accessories after October, he told ESPN he will keep the tips of his dreadlocks pink.
  • Lights stay on these days when retired Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman is around. Merriman hosts an annual coat drive at his alma mater, The University of Maryland. Merriman, who spent part of his childhood in shelters, says he lacked a warm coat growing up.