The NFL has become one of the frontrunners in driving social change, reaching $95 million in contributions toward social justice programs earlier this year, a huge improvement over previous years. NFL community relations manager Christina Hovestadt works hard to give back to the fans who support the league all year round. The league runs various initiatives like NFL PLAY 60, Crucial Catch and the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award to connect with communities and impact society in a positive manner.
Hovestadt grew up in a sporting family and began her own sporting career at an early age, playing collegiate volleyball before moving onto teaching and coaching at Duval County public schools in Jacksonville, Florida. She then worked alongside former NFL running back Rashad Jennings, as the Executive Director for the Rashad Jennings Foundation. Through a continuous passion for the sports community, Hovestadt has now worked her way up to a Community Relations Manager role at NFL.
The NFL has an abundance of community initiatives and grants. Hovestadt and her team realise their work is even more important now during a global crisis. At the moment, people need support and partnered organisations are stretched more than ever.
Hovestadt said: “[During this pandemic] we have all learned to call an audible,” likening how her team has had to adjust, just like a quarterback would at the line of scrimmage.
“All 32 teams have been really creative and innovative to make sure that the work doesn’t stop, they use side-line robots to talk to fans, send robots to hospitals, and provide virtual mentorship via online platforms. It’s also been great to see how we have been able to pivot at the league level.”
“[The NFL] always pushes us to think big, that’s one of our core values, we need to think big. When COVID hit, we were really able to see how innovative we could be in the 2020 season. This year has opened my eyes to everything that we are doing and how quickly we can adapt to make the best out of a situation no one was really expecting, or could have prepared for.”
Wilson, an act to follow
One of the important initiatives Hovestadt is involved in is the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, presented annually to honour a player’s volunteer and charity efforts as well as excellence on the field. The winner is awarded $250,000 to a charity of their choice, courtesy of the NFL Foundation. Seattle Seahawks QB, Russell Wilson won the 2020 award for his work with the Why Not You Foundation, which Wilson started in 2014.
Wilson’s foundation has donated over $9 million to Strong Against Cancer since its inception. Additionally, Wilson has made weekly trips to visit patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital during his nine-year career at the Seahawks. Those visits continued this year virtually due to COVID-19. Wilson and his wife Ciara pledged to donate a million meals to Feeding America early on during the pandemic. Additionally, Wilson helped encourage people to vote, appearing in commercial spots for the I AM A VOTER campaign.
“Russell Wilson has always prioritized serving his community, but this year, he met the challenge and more when it was needed most,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
The Walter Payton Legacy
Hovestadt further illustrates the importance of the work that players both old and young do outside of the game to help local community initiatives.
“It’s incredible, it’s so rewarding to see who the nominees are going to be each year and the causes that they are passionate about. To be able to draw awareness to the causes that each of the nominees have poured their heart and soul into off the field is very rewarding. The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award motivates those younger players who have just come into the league, along with the veterans.
“A true Man of the Year nominee demonstrates excellence on and off the field. They model a lifestyle of giving back and they are consistent with it, not just this year or last year, but in years past as well and that embodies the legacy that Walter Payton left himself.
“We want to support our players, so if there are causes that they bring to us that they are passionate on working in, we want to help them through our grants with the NFL Foundation. Anything that is important to them is important to us.”
The continued fight against cancer
The American Cancer Society (ACS) predict around 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 608,000 cancer related deaths in 2021, so the work they do alongside the NFL in funding and raising awareness to get screened and checked is increasingly important. Since 2009, the NFL has teamed up with the ACS to help fund the continued fight against cancer and have raised more than $22 million since the start of the partnership.
“We want to do things with excellence whenever we tackle them,” Hovestadt explains, something she is very clearly enthusiastic about.
“So Crucial Catch for instance, we rely on the American Cancer Society as the experts in the cancer space, we are not the experts by any means, but to have a partner like ACS who is able to give us the insight as to what the needs are now, is really helpful. We continue to build the relationships with our partners so that we never guess what the needs are, but that we are able to hear it from the experts themselves so that we can meet those needs that are in front of us.
“I have loved working with ACS on the Crucial Catch initiative. The fans, players, coaches, front office staff – every single person has some kind of degree of connection with cancer impacting their lives.”
With the light at the end of the tunnel becoming brighter, the NFL’s community efforts continue to help make 2021 a year to remember.