NFL, Arizona Cardinals promote physical wellness, community building among Phoenix youth at Boys & Girls Clubs

2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominees spent the afternoon on Feb. 10 encouraging youth to get physically active. (Tristan Tucker/MEDILL)

By Tristan Tucker
Medill Reports

PHOENIX — Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley worked in collaboration with the NFL to inspire local youth to get active, both in their community and on the football field. On Feb. 10, Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner Dak Prescott and several runners-up came to the Bob and Renee Parsons branch to spend time with the kids and inspire physical wellness through the Play 60 initiative.

The NFL formed Play 60 15 years ago and, according to the league’s website, it is “the NFL’s commitment to youth health and wellness.”

According to Sam Fowler, vice president of development and strategy for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley, the NFL has increased its engagement with Phoenix youth efforts over the years. That level of physical engagement is felt across the nation, as represented by the 32 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominees who inspire youth wellness in NFL markets.

“Well, first of all, it’s huge for our kids,” Fowler said. “It’s just a powerful thing about what the NFL does whenever it comes to a community and leaves its impact.”

Fowler said the space surrounding the Bob & Renee Parsons branch is mostly vacant and the club is diligently working to build up the area. Kids, players and land development workers spent part of the afternoon planting trees in the lot, another form of physical and community wellness that goes beyond the Play 60 initiative.

Outside of working on the area, players spent time getting kids athletically involved and speaking with the children about their dreams through various stations at the club. Prescott, along with players like New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and Seattle Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett participated in such activities with the kids.

“You know, for me it’s all about the kids,” Fowler said. “And so, seeing their faces when all these players walked out and just kind of walking around today and seeing the interactions, that’s what means the most to me.”

Although he wasn’t able to attend the event, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham and other Walter Payton Man of the Year nominees are continuing to push for youth engagement in football.

“Just keep those grades up, No. 1, because that’s the only thing that could take you away (from football),” Graham said to aspiring young athletes during a press availability on Feb. 9. “And then, just make sure that you love (playing football) because when you love something, putting in that extra work doesn’t feel like extra work because you really love the game.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Prescott both said their hope is to inspire even more engagement with youth in the future.

“What (the 32 nominees) do in their communities, with their families, is extraordinary, and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Goodell said, speaking to the children. “We’re fortunate to have these men, and we’re fortunate for you and fortunate to have them in your communities. And these are the types of people you should be looking up to as young people.”

Arizona Cardinals and other NFL representatives and executives attended the event, and Fowler said Cardinals players continually take the time to engage in the community.

“It’s been amazing the impact that they’ve had,” Fowler said. “Everybody from Larry Fitzgerald, who’s a legend here in Arizona, to Kyler Murray and Zach Ertz and everybody in between (has gotten involved with the organization). And so, we’re very grateful because they actually take the time to get to know the kids and they do some good work.”

Although the Cardinals had a down season, the team is setting its sights on developing the next generation of football players and developing community engagement along the way.

“We’re incredibly grateful,” Fowler said. “It’s not all the time that you get great partners that can come in and do some spectacular things and leave lasting memories, so we’re grateful for that and we’re grateful for the league.”

Tristan Tucker is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.