For some NFL players, the urge to make a difference doesn’t present itself right away. It might not come until they find the right cause, or when they notice something that’s missing in their city.
But not Chris Draft. The former Chicago Bear, who spent more than a decade in the league, knew from a young age that giving back to the community would be a big part of his life. His mom was a social worker, giving him a chance to see firsthand how important it is to help people.
And more than anywhere else, he saw it in his dad, who was Draft’s youth football coach. Draft noted the strong impression that his dad made on the other kids from a young age.
“I could see how that presence was so important. Having a mentor, having a guide, having someone that could tell you right and wrong, and that not everybody had it,” he said. “So many of those young guys that are now grown men are so excited to tell my dad now all the things that they’ve accomplished.”
Draft sat down with United Way this past week to discuss his path through the NFL, the work he does now and the importance of mental wellness in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of his work is with cancer advocacy, and he has seen many parallels between what some cancer survivors can go through related to mental health and what many people across the nation are feeling during this difficult time.
“The idea that cancer completely changes your life … and it seems like choices that you’ve made aren’t there anymore, well that’s gonna completely affect you mentally,” he said. “And I think it’s just become more obvious that when people are in those situations that it’s important to help them and support them mentally through a situation where there’s not a clear defined answer around the corner. COVID’s something that we have to deal with.”
And, as has been the case in many areas of our lives, the pandemic has complicated the work that Draft does with cancer survivors. Across the nation, in-person meetings and many of our day-to-day routines are largely on hold. But as Draft readily pointed out, the addition of the pandemic doesn’t mean the subtraction of other issues.
“Cancer is not going away just because a pandemic is here,” he noted. “We still have to support our survivors. We still have to be able to do that.”
Despite the added challenges, Draft still works hard to make a difference every day and hopes other NFL players will continue to use their platforms to promote change as well. He noted the importance of organizations such as United Way, that work to help players fulfill their goals.
“It’s meeting people where they are,” he said. “Not just looking at their bank account and expecting them to do certain things, and not just looking at them as just a ball player without recognizing who they are or what their story is, so that we can find a way to make sure that what they do is the most authentic to who they are.”