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Some players use their Super Bowl platform to make a super impact in their community

Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard celebrates with fans after the team's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in November. Hubbard, who grew up in Cincinnati, uses his social media platforms to promote local causes.
Emilee Chinn
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard celebrates with fans after the team's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in November. Hubbard, who grew up in Cincinnati, uses his social media platforms to promote local causes.

The Super Bowl is one of the most watched sporting events in the world with an estimated 117 million viewers expected to watch the Cincinnati Bengals face off against the Los Angeles Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday.

The big stage offers the 106 players who will suit up for the game a unique opportunity to connect with a bigger audience than most will ever have. Some are using that to highlight their charitable causes. Even something as simple as a retweet can make a super impact when this many eyes are on you.

"Twenty years ago it was really just the cream of the crop that had the platform and the opportunity," says Kelli Matthews, a senior instructor of public relations at the University of Oregon. "Now anyone can start a Twitter account and that gives you a platform and a space and a voice."

A glance through the Twitter accounts of Bengals and Rams players offers some examples of athletes using their social media accounts for a variety of purposes. While some don't use social media at all, while others use the platform to highlight their hometown, their alma mater, to talk about the team or furthering their own business endeavors, partnering with companies to promote a product or a brand.

"The smart athletes are really thinking forward, thinking about 'How do I use the access in the platform and the audience I have now?' " Matthews said. "Those things can create a springboard for a life after their football career."

The average NFL career lasts only 3.3 years and many players never get the opportunity to play in a Super Bowl. A few have seized the moment to make an impact long after they've left the field.

Bengals backup running back Samaje Perine's 41-yard touchdown catch and run in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game will go down in Cincinnati lore as one of the plays that helped to start their comeback from a 21-3 deficit. The Bengals eventually defeated the Chiefs, 27-24, in overtime.

With the newfound attention, Perine has been selling t-shirts with a percentage of the proceeds going toward a scholarship for a student athlete at his alma mater Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville, Texas.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year, also released a limited edition t-shirt with proceeds being donated to Team Rubicon, an organization that mobilizes veterans to respond and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises.

For Cincinnati hometown hero Sam Hubbard, using his social media platform for a greater good is just what he does, regardless of how bright the spotlight is.

"Sam was like 'I'm from here. I'm a part of this community. This community helped me get here. It's only right that I kind of turn around and give back to them,' " said Matt Kittell, the executive director of the Sam Hubbard Foundation.

Hubbard was born in Cincinnati and played at Moeller High School before heading to Ohio State. In 2018 he was drafted by his hometown Bengals, a dream for most kids in Southwest Ohio, and immediately looked for opportunities to give back to his community, raising $30,000 in his rookie year for an annual youth football camp.

"We knew Sam was popular in the area. We knew we could leverage that to do some good, but we really didn't know what we wanted to do," says Kittell.

After Hubbard saw a local news story about a Cincinnati food bank having only two weeks of food left, he lept into action, eventually raising $85,000 for Freestore Foodbank.

"This is an area that really has a lot of need," says Kittell. "There's 80,000 Tri-State kids without food. One in seven people are facing food insecurity. This is a problem, and I have a solution with my platform. Let's attack that. And that's really what we've been focusing on for really the past two years."

Kittell estimates the foundation has raised a little more than $160,000 since 2020 to fight food insecurity in Southwest Ohio. Those donations go toward providing power packs, which are backpacks full of healthy snacks that kids who might not get nutritious food can take home over weekends. It also helps fund food pantries like the one at Harrison Junior School, which are open to any student in the Southwest Local School District who is facing food insecurity.

Hubbard's efforts to fight food insecurity in his community and the Bengals recent run to the Super Bowl inspired the Southwest Local School District to start a fundraiser, originally aiming to raise $9,400 to honor the 94 that Hubbard wears on his jersey. The school raised more than $31,000.

Mike Morris of the Southwest Local School District said the fundraiser surpassed its goal in 48 hours.

"We've had donations come in as far west as Arizona and as far east as New York," Morris said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Dean
Jeff Dean is the 2021 Military Veterans in Journalism intern for NPR reporting for the Business Desk and Newsdesk teams.
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