Outspoken Eagle Chris Long isn't visiting the White House today. Instead, he told a boy in seventh grade that he is decidedly against pineapple as a pizza topping.
Well, that wasn't all.
The defensive end spent part of his Tuesday morning video-chatting with about 100 Marlton seventh graders who for two weeks this spring raised money for Long's charity Waterboys, a nonprofit that aims to bring clean water to families in East Africa. He talked to the kids largely about how the organization will use the $775 they raised: It'll go toward supporting an African family with a solar-powered well.
But these were middle-school students. So, in a moment of levity during a short question-and-answer session, pizza came up. Still, the conference left students feeling as if they were "walking on air," according to DeMasi Middle School social studies teacher David Austin, who organized the call.
"It's been kind of magical," Austin said in a phone interview Tuesday morning.
National attention fell on the Eagles Monday after President Trump released a statement uninviting the Super Bowl champions from attending a scheduled meet-and-greet at the White House this afternoon. The president indicated he was dismayed by a "small delegation" that had elected to attend — apparently fewer than 10 players were planning to show. (The Birds scheduled a Tuesday practice that's closed to reporters.)
Long, 33, said just after the Super Bowl that he wouldn't attend the White House if invited, due to comments the president made after a white-nationalist rally took place in Charlottesville, Va., last year. The defensive end attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
The conversation with DeMasi students had been in the works for several days, Austin said, and was facilitated by a parent of one of his pupils. Austin — who has been teaching for nearly four decades — said he has for years incorporated into his curriculum lessons about the scarcity of drinking water in African countries. He said students this year read the novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park that includes a true story about a lost boy in Sudan, plus tales of young girls and women who spend their days retrieving water for their families.
During the Eagles' season, the teacher discovered Long's charity, which seemed like a perfect fit for a service project. Students raised funds by placing water jugs in classrooms throughout their school to collect cash and spare change, and four girls — without prompting — organized a Saturday car wash that netted $300 for the cause. Austin said he was "absolutely stunned."
So Tuesday morning, Long spent a few minutes telling the students about the genesis of his project, which was a 2013 trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. And despite the sidebar about pizza toppings, he spent most of the session thanking the students for their work on behalf of Waterboys and explaining how their money would be used.
Austin said his students were thrilled they spoke to a Super Bowl champion. And he's thrilled his students earned it.
"Don't underestimate the power and enthusiasm of a middle-school child," he said. "When you give a kid a cause and a reason, the kid will step up."