When Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey was a 7-year-old, he and his peewee football teammates played against a collection of NFL mascots.
Little No. 22 took a double reverse handoff in for a touchdown – stiff-arming Toro, the Houston Texans’ mascot, in the process – pulled a pen out of his sock, signed the ball, and threw it into the delighted crowd.
On Friday morning, a decade and a half later, McCaffrey was looking for the ball again.
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This time, it was at DICK’S Sporting Goods at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, and it was at the request of a very young boy whose small hand tugged at the hem of McCaffrey’s shorts, his other hand rubbing into his eyes so he wouldn’t cry in front of the NFL player.
“Can we please get this kid a football?” McCaffrey asked.
A group of 15 players from Charlotte Youth Football each got a $150 gift card to spend on anything in the store, but all this particular child wanted at that moment was a football. McCaffrey took him back to get one even though the shopping session had ended.
The event kicked off DICK’S first “Celebrate Youth Sports Weekend,” from July 14-16, during which time the company has pledged to donate one percent of in-store, online and mobile sales to support youth sports teams nationwide. DICK’S will also give a 20 percent discount to any customer accompanied by a child 18 years of age or younger wearing a youth team uniform.
“We are driven by a deep belief that sports make people better and thus the billions of dollars that have been cut from youth sports budgets across the country is of great concern to us,” said Lauren Hobart, President of DICK’S Sporting Goods, in a release.
McCaffrey, the Panthers’ No. 8 draft pick this spring, has been flying all over the country in the past few weeks as he prepares for training camp at the end of July, but wanted to squeeze in this particular event because of the tremendous impact youth sports had on him as a child.
“I think doing stuff like this is really the important thing to do,” he said. “It is an issue, (that) not enough kids can play sports just because of a budget issue. To me, that hurts because it is so important for kids all around the world to be involved in some sort of athletic activity growing up, just because of the life lessons it teaches.
“All of the different things (being involved in youth sports) did for me, I know I’d be excited if I could find out I could help somebody do the same thing.”
As one of three boys and the son of longtime Denver Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey and former Stanford soccer player Lisa McCaffrey, athletics have long been engrained in McCaffrey’s makeup. Some of his fondest memories are from the teams he was a member of as a child.
“I’d be willing to put my little league (football) team against anybody,” he joked. “We went 96-0 since we were 7. We had a good squad! I still look back on those DVDs, I still watch them. Those were the best times of my life, playing little league football.
“You’d practice two times per week, you’d show up on Saturdays with your best friends, eat oranges at halftime and Snickers bars. You know, it’s the things you look back on and really appreciate where you came from.”