Victory for vets: Colorful cleats support major cause
As a football fan, you hear the commentary every Sunday.
The game is won in the trenches.
Both teams are in a hard-fought battle.
It’s war out there on the field.
He really sacrificed his body on that play.
The list goes on.
But while the American sport may share many subtle similarities with the American military, like commonly used terminology, these two hallmarks of our country couldn’t be any more different in real life.
“Whether it’s a visible injury, like someone losing an arm or a leg, or PTSD, we don’t know what they go through,” said Denver Broncos nose tackle Mike Purcell. “I don’t compare it, because it’s a whole other level.”
Instead, Purcell stepped forward to change the narrative.
For the NFL’s annual My Cause My Cleats campaign in week 14 of the 2019-20 season, Purcell laced up his new fancy footwear against the Houston Texans to help promote the Wounded Warrior Project and show appreciation for veterans. Empower Retirement then won the special pair of cleats at a league-official auction, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Purcell was on hand at Empower’s Greenwood Village campus January 27 to celebrate the occasion and tell his story to the company’s VETS business resource group. VETS is one of many employee-led teams that champion diversity and inclusion throughout the organization.
“We’re committed to living our values and doing the right thing,” said Steve Jenks, chief marketing officer at Empower. “Our ACT program is designed to encourage associates to pursue their individual passions and give back to people in need. This was a great opportunity for us to make a positive difference in our communities.”
Empower also made an additional donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I wanted to make sure that if they did go to somebody, it was somebody that was going to support that program as well,” said Purcell, who spent four years with the San Francisco 49ers and had previous stints with five other teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots.
“I’m glad it was Empower — and for the work that they’ve done and the donation they’ve made.”
The Wounded Warrior Project, which was formed in 2003, is a nonprofit organization that offers essential resources, benefits and activities for military personnel who have suffered an injury or illness on or after September 11, 2001. Currently, they provide assistance for over 130,000 registered alumni.
Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, the foundation also has an office in Colorado Springs.
“We’re very grateful when community members and businesses (like Empower) reach out to support us,” said Chris Herrera, physical health and wellness director for the Wounded Warrior Project. “Every dollar we receive from anyone helps us tremendously. We can’t be more appreciative.”
For Purcell, his goal was to help veterans tackle many of the struggles they face on a regular basis.
Some of those main challenges, according to Herrera, include employment, money management, and physical well-being and mental health as well as the overall transition back to civilian culture.
“We know today’s era of veterans are going to be needing services for the next 50 years,” Herrera, said. “It’s our mission to create the most well-adjusted generation of veterans in our nation’s history. Helping veterans is going to be an ongoing process for the next several generations.”
When it came to participating in My Cause My Cleats for the first time in his career, Purcell wanted to “look good,” “feel good” and “play good.” As he put it, “It’s one game a year where, in a way, the league lets the players go crazy.” But he also wanted the shoes to fit into a bigger picture.
After speaking with an old college roommate who had partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project in the past, Purcell decided the fit was just right. Purcell’s gameday cleats featured the charity’s name and logo and, of course, mixed in a patriotic color combination of red, white and blue.
“Overall, the work that they do in the community that they have, and moving people back into civilian life after service and after the things they’ve dealt with overseas, it’s amazing,” Purcell said. “If it wasn’t for the veterans and the service members of the United States, we wouldn’t be here.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do on Sundays.”
A stark contrast from huddling up the troops on offense or preparing to defend a team’s air-raid passing attack.
“If (an injury) happens (to a star professional athlete), it’s all over the news. It floods the news. It’s ridiculous,” Purcell said. “But something happens to a vet, no one hears about it. For me, it’s something I wanted to shed light on — the service members of this country. To give thanks to them.”