I have long admired Joe Haden from a distance. Yes, he played for a rival team, the Cleveland Browns, but he always seemed to be so much more than a football player. He played hard, but had a very classy approach to the game.
Then I found out how being a football player was just one part of Joe Haden. The other part was being an ambassador for people who at time struggle to fight for themselves. In case you didn’t know, Joe Haden is the first NFL player to be a global ambassador for the Special Olympics, something which is very near to his heart.
The Special Olympics is an organization which allows athletes with some type of physical or cognitive disability to participate in sports they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Such a worthwhile endeavor, but Haden’s purpose goes back to his younger brother, who was born with his own cognitive disability.
Haden opened up about his unique situation to ESPN, and you can see this touching video in the clip HERE.
Sadly, when people think of Joe Haden, they only think of the football player, but he has been using his celebrity, and platform, to shine a light on a subject which has been put in the dark for far too long.
In 2015, Haden spoke to ESPN about the ‘Spread the word to end the word’ campaign, trying to eliminate the word ‘retard’ or calling someone ‘retarded’ from everyday language.
"Open up your vocabulary, people," Haden said. "The R-word is hurtful, hateful and ignorant. Like the N-word, it should not be part of our language."
You can imagine what goes through Haden’s mind whenever he hears someone use that word, while thinking about his younger brother who struggles with speech and language due to his disability.
"He's just a really cool kid, a blessing to me and my family," says Haden. "I play for him, and I would do anything for him."
At a time when many athletes are being praised, criticized and shunned due to their own personal beliefs and platforms, Haden’s is one which should be celebrated. Haden had this to say in 2015 when he was named Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics organization:
"I am honored and proud to raise awareness for the Special Olympics movement as a Global Ambassador during one of the largest sporting events in the world," said Joe Haden.
"Growing up, my brother had the opportunity to participate in the Special Olympics movement and through my involvement, I learned first-hand the tremendous value of playing sports with, and learning from, people with intellectual disabilities. It's a cause I'm truly passionate about."
Peter Wheeler, Chief of Strategic Properties, Special Olympics said, "Joe has become a staunch advocate of and believer in the transformative power of Unified Sports. We are thrilled that he will be joining us in such a visible way as a Global Ambassador to promote our year-round efforts to build a unified generation through sports."
As a parent of a child with special needs, who participates in Special Olympics activities, I am beyond excited to see Haden be a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not just because it is the team I follow so closely, but because Haden represents something very near, and dear, to my heart.
I currently only have one player’s uniforms hanging in my closet, and that would be Ben Roethlisberger, but I have a feeling Joe Haden’s jersey might be accompanying those No. 7’s pretty soon.