Chris Long is playing for free, and has never been happier
Chris Long pledged all of his 2017 salary to promote educational equity in Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis.
If you happen to be a weekend rough-touch or flag football player, you'll be heartened to know that you have something in common with Eagles defensive end Chris Long.
You're both playing for free this season.
Long, who already gave away his first six game checks to fund scholarships for students in his hometown of Charlottesville, Va., announced on Wednesday that he will use his final 10 game checks to launch Pledge 10 for Tomorrow, a campaign that will promote educational equity and opportunity for underserved youth in the three NFL cities he's played in – Philadelphia, Boston, and St. Louis.
"I always thought maybe it would be cool to play for free,'' the 32-year-old Long said. "I did. I thought it would be a personal test to see if I'm really the guy I'd like to be.''
Long signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal with the Eagles in March that included a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.5 million in guaranteed money. His base salary this season is $1 million.
Long has made a lot of money in his career — somewhere on the north side of $100 million.
He acknowledged Thursday that it's easier to make this kind of commitment in his 10th NFL season, when his salary is considerably less than it was in some of his previous contracts. But that doesn't diminish what he's doing.
"I'm lucky,'' he said. "I've been lucky. This isn't a heroic effort. I just really believe my platform is going to shrink from here on out.
"If I'm not playing football in a couple of years and I do this, it's not going to have the same effect. It's evidenced by the fans that have gotten behind it and the money we're going to be able to raise.''
In addition to the money Long has pledged, he has received nearly $180,000 in matching donations from fans, companies, and fellow NFL players.
Long, like many athletes, has donated a lot of money to worthy causes during his career. But he hasn't publicized most of them. The reason he's publicizing this one is because of the matching option.
When he got back to the locker room at the NovaCare Complex after Thursday's practice, he received a call from Nicole Woodie, who runs the charitable foundation set up by Chris and his wife, Megan.
"She said we just got $56,000 from a group in St. Louis,'' Long said. "That stuff just makes your day. It's so cool. It makes you realize there's a lot of good left in the world. Some days, you're not so sure about that.''
A little earlier, Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth pledged $5,000 a game.
"When he heard about the initiative, he hit me up and said he wanted to donate,'' Long said. "Nicole called me after I talked to him and said, 'You might want to circle back with him and make sure he meant to give $5,000 a game rather than $5,000 one time.' ''
"Everybody cares about education,'' Long said. "Kids can't control their circumstances, their home life, their educational opportunities. I think that's why guys want to get involved.''
Long is a child of privilege. He is one of three sons of Hall of Famer and longtime Fox Sports studio analyst Howie Long and his wife, Diane.
He knows how lucky he is. And he wants to help those who aren't nearly as fortunate.
"For my wife and I, educational equity and opportunity has been a big deal for a while now,'' he said. "Being involved in the boys and girls clubs and scholarships in my hometown [Charlottesville].
"But I always felt I wanted to do something on a little bit larger scale. So we decided to focus on groups in the three cities I've played in, that would have an effect on more than a few kids.''
On Wednesday, Long and his wife visited one of the Philly organizations they're helping — Summer Search. Summer Search partners with high schools, community-based organizations, and families to provide mentoring and expand college-support services for students from low-income backgrounds.
"It's an awesome place,'' Long said. "We went there and met some of those kids. Giving them that mentorship. Giving kids an opportunity to go see the world a little bit. College prep.
"These are kids that, when you meet them, appreciate school and that opportunity way more than I did. And I had all my opportunities right there for me. That'll change your heart and make you want to do stuff like that.''
It's been an eventful week for Long. On Tuesday, he was one of 12 players, with teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who met with NFL owners in New York to discuss the racial injustice in communities that led to African American players kneeling during the national anthem.
Long and Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich were the only white players invited to the meeting.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what color you are,'' Long said. "It's a question of, are these issues worth talking about and is our country worth improving.
"We've got some really good people in this league. A lot of time, the message gets hijacked. We're just trying to get the message out there about what guys are talking about.
"America's the best country in the world. If you have the best football team in the world, you don't stop practicing. You don't stop trying to improve. I know it's a cliché, but that's the way I think about it.''