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Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA)
The Steelers-Giants storylines have centered on quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning and receivers Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., but this is a week where their feats shouldn't overshadow the players' feet.
Roethlisberger will wear custom cleats with the badge number of Rocco, the Pittsburgh Police K-9 officer killed in the line of duty in January 2014, and an image of a German shepherd.
Cornerback Will Gay will wear purple cleats to raise awareness for domestic violence, honoring the mother he lost as an 8-year-old when she was fatally shot by his stepfather.
Their stories will be showcased through the NFL's "My Cleats, My Cause" campaign, in which players will wear custom cleats Sunday in support of their foundation or favorite charity.
"Any time to get you an opportunity to bring attention to a stage like the NFL, that's always great," said Gay, who supports the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. "But that's just the first step. It's bigger than the cleats. If the cleats get people to actually start talking about it and actually start writing about it, then that's cool. The issues that people are putting out there are bigger than the cleats.
"It's personal, but it's bigger than me. As long as we continue to do that, and make it bigger than us, the world will be a better place. I'm wearing the cleats not only for my mother but many survivors and people that are going through it right now that don't know where to go."
It's not just to raise awareness but funds, as players can auction their cleats at nflauction.nfl.com "" and 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the charities of their choice.
Unfortunately, the NFL limits the "My Cleats, My Cause" campaign to one week of the season. In the height of hypocrisy, the league previously fined to players for such displays.
The NFL fined Gay $5,787 for wearing the purple cleats in violation of its stringent uniform policy. It also fined running back DeAngelo Williams and prevented him from wearing pink all season long instead of just October to raise awareness for breast cancer, which claimed the lives of his mother and four aunts.
The league did the same to stop defensive end Cam Heyward from wearing "Iron Head," in honor of his late father, on his EyeBlack strips "" despite a deal he had to sell strips to raise money for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation.
What a shame that Williams and Heyward have custom shoes but won't be able to play in them against the Giants because of injuries.
"I think it's a great way for guys to express themselves, show what they care about and what's dear to their heart," Heyward said. "Even though it's individualized, it makes the players more like a group. We're different in all different ways, but we all have stuff we care about. With (the NFL) being cautious about it, they found a great way to screen everything, show why we did it, and I think everybody benefits from it."
But, again, why does the NFL limit it to one week?
"So much of it is the league has their way or the highway," Roethlisberger said. "It's a fine line you walk. You never know what you're going to get from guys. Where you could get in trouble is if somebody was doing a different cause every week. If you pick something for the whole year, it would be great. I see where it could be tricky, but I think it's great that the league is letting us do it for one week."
Gay believes NFL players can use their celebrity to make a difference for their cause, even without custom cleats.
"It's bigger than football. It's bigger than wearing cleats. I'm proud that the NFL is doing it, but this doesn't have to stop whatever it is you're supporting behind closed doors," Gay said. "You don't need to wear your cleats every Sunday to show your awareness. No, use your voice. You've still got a platform. Your name is still tagged along with the team you play for and the position you play at the highest level of your sport. That's the thing that we should do bigger than just wearing our cleats "" to get involved."
That's a cause we can all get behind, without the NFL's permission.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.
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