As a part of the NFL’s social justice initiative, the Bengals organization, with the help of several players, donated $300,000 to four different programs. According to the Bengals website: “The programs focus on poverty and reducing barriers to opportunity, with a priority on supporting improvements in education and economic advancement and community and police relations.”
The Bengals Positive Impact Committee helped raise the money for the social justice efforts and helped choose the programs for the committee to support. The committee is composed of Andy Dalton, Darqueze Dennard, Vincent Rey, alongside two Walter Payton Man of the Year nomimees, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Katie Blackburn, executive vice president, and Paul Brown (grandson of former Bengals head coach and owner Paul Brown), vice president of player personnel were also involved in the committee meetings.
“Our players do a lot of great things in the community and we’re pleased to take advantage of this league program to expand the work we do in the Greater Cincinnati area,” said Blackburn.
“One of the big things we wanted to do as players and an organization is make an impact on our community,” said Dalton, who perhaps the best-known among current Bengals players for his charitable efforts in Cincinnati. “We found several organizations that fit where we wanted to help and we were able to make a donation to help further the programs they have in place.”
“That money is going to have a substantial impact in our community,” Rey added. “That’s my reason for not just playing, but living. Everything I do, I want to be an asset and not a liability. Whether it’s on this football team, whether it’s in my own family, whether it’s in my community, I want to leave a place better than I found it. And through this social justice initiative, that’s what it’s doing.”
One of the recipients was Gospel City Mission, who will use the funds to boost their Career Plus program. The program helps high school juniors and seniors from inner city schools, as well as working with their parents, to teach life and job skills that the students can use after graduation.
“The generosity of the Bengals organization and players is going to change the life course for many students who need help transitioning to a career because they’re not going to college or are unsure of college,” said Roger Howell, President of City Gospel Mission. “Many of these students have obstacles and hardships to overcome, so it’s important that they have steady guidance and role models like the Bengals players.”
Dennard is happy to see the support flow back into the community.
“Cincinnati is our home most of the year,” he said. “Guys not only donated money, but they want to donate their time as well and make sure we can show the community we’re here for them just like they’re here for us on Sundays.”
Activities Beyond the Classroom, which also received some support, will be able to fund the Academic & Athletic Accountability Pathway (AAA Pathway) in partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools. AAA Pathway helps high school athletes by providing mentoring and tutoring to help with life after graduation, whether the students continue to pursue athletics or not.
“We are very grateful to the Bengals and the players for their support of AAA Pathway,” said Brian Leshner, Executive Director of Activities Beyond the Classroom. “This districtwide initiative takes a holistic approach to helping students prepare for life beyond high school. The Bengals players actively mentoring and supporting CPS’s athletes will go a long way in setting these student athletes up for success.”
Johnson, who was nominated for Walter Payton Man of the year last season, was recognized for his work in creating partnerships between the police department and local youth.
“It was humbling and an honor to serve on the committee,” said Johnson. “We did a good job of raising funds. I’m proud of the guys who stepped up and so you want to make sure those go to a good cause and I think we did a good job in selecting the programs.”
Johnson’s influence on the committee likely led to the Bengals donating to the Cincinnati Police Department and Cincinnati Recreation Commission for their Dive Right Youth Flag Football program. Dive Right helps kids learn the value of diversity through flag football, encouraging players of all races and backgrounds to work as a team and learn skills like conflict resolution.
“We are happy to provide an opportunity for youth to engage in a program that will allow them to take the information they’ve learned back to their communities, schools and family,” said Cincinnati Police Department Officer Eddie Hawkins. “Thank you to the Cincinnati Bengals players and organization for believing in what we do and allowing us to continue to do the work to empower young people with knowledge so they can be the change we want to see.”
Dunlap has been nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2018 for his work in schools, particularly to help eliminate bullying.
“It’s our community as players and as a team,” he said, “Being able to collaborate and being on the committee to see how we can effect positive change is a step in the right direction.”
The Bengals will continue to make strides in the education field in partnering with Life Learning Center based out of Covington, Kentucky. L.L.C. will use the funds for their 12-week program “to deliver an education curriculum with wrap-around care offerings to help ‘at-risk’ individuals find sustainable, living wage jobs,” according to their website.
“To have the support of the Bengals in this community and the generosity of these players is absolutely amazing,” said Alecia Webb-Edgington, President of Life Learning Center. “The work that they do and their commitment to the Greater Cincinnati area and for us in Northern Kentucky, we cannot be more thankful for what they’ve done for us.”
With all the negative press the Bengals seem to get for their on-field performance, it’s nice to see them giving back to their community.