“I see how much good can come from minimal effort on the part of a professional athlete,” Steve Weatherford told me. “Just showing up and reading a book to a class for ten minutes, costs me a half hour out of my life and those kids will remember that forever.”
Now in his fourth season as the punter for the New York Giants, Weatherford is one of the most recognizable faces in the NFL despite excelling in a role that is often spared the bright lights of the media and the watchful eyes of the fan base.
The Indiana native turned Hoboken resident recognizes the power of his unique impact and has opted to maximize its potential.
A quick glance at his social media footprint will present to you a myriad of philanthropic activities including charitable appearances, one-on-one visits with fans, and requests for prayers for fans in need.
So it’s not surprising that earlier this month, Weatherford and several other Giants players hosted upwards of 100 Special Olympic athletes on the field at Metlife Stadium.
“I’ve never met a group of people who are more pure hearted,” Weatherford said. “They have no idea that I’m on the New York Giants. They just know that I’m helping them have more fun.”
Steve explained that often, special needs athletes are unaware of the celebrity status that accompanies professional athletes.
“A lot of them don’t really understand the NFL, they don’t even understand what that is. They just know that somebody is there.”
Weatherford’s celebrity status means more to those who watch him take the field on Sundays than those who get to share the field with him during Special Olympics events. And that’s a positive.
“If nothing else, it motivates other people who think ‘I just don’t have enough time to give back,’” said Weatherford. “If I can find time — I have three kids (and) obviously I’m playing professional sports–if I can find time for these kids, you can find time.”
“I did the polar plunge (to raise money for the Special Olympics) this winter and then maybe a month after that I actually went up and played flag football,” he added. “ It was fun for me because I was all-time QB for both teams. It was a dream come true.”
Steve plans on being involved with the Special Olympics long after he retires from the NFL, which won’t likely be soon.
Though he earned a Super Bowl ring after the Giants knocked off the Patriots for the second time in five years, and signed a 5-year $12.75 million deal in 2012, Weatherford still felt that he had something to prove earlier this season.
After tearing four ligaments in his plant ankle during the Giants opener, Weatherford was expected by many to miss time while he healed.
Being as NFL teams rarely carry reserve specialists on the main roster, the Giants would have been forced to bring in a temporary replacement.
Not on Steve’s watch.
“The last thing I wanted to do was have some punter come in here that’s never played in the Meadowlands stadium,” Steve said, referencing the venue’s notorious reputation for tricky winds. Ultimately Steve would punt through the injury and the choice, a move that he candidly described as “uncharted territory”, was the right move.
“It was a lot of emotion that was going through my mind,” Steve told me. “I never necessarily doubted myself. I didn’t know if I was going to be durable enough to finish the game and the last thing that I wanted to do was let down my teammates my coaches.”
“I also wanted to prove a point to my teammates,” he added. “Not that they didn’t already know, (but) I’m more than just a punter. I’m a football player.”
Weatherford and the Giants are traveling to Dallas this weekend to try and rebound from what proved to be a disappointing outing in Philadelphia.
The game will air on Sunday at 4:25 (ET) on Fox.