James Winchester honors cancer fighters, his own heritage with NFL charity campaign

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign allows players to wear custom-design shoes during this weekend’s game, with the footwear later auctioned off with proceeds going to charitable causes. Chiefs long snapper is actually wearing two different cleats Sunday against the New York Jets, honoring two important parts of his life on the field.

Winchester’s first pair of cleats support Braden’s Hope For Childhood Cancer, an Olathe-based foundation with the mission of raising awareness and funds for cancer research impacting children. The organization focuses on large grants of $100,000 that provide seed money to childhood cancer centers for research.

“I heard of them up here because we have some good friends of our that we go to church with,” Winchester said. “Their little girl was diagnosed with cancer at a young age and they had gone back and forth through the children’s hospital and really spoke highly of Braden’s Hope and what the care that they provided for their little girl.”

Winchester’s ties to organization dedicated to childhood cancer stem back to his college days at Oklahoma. His friends volunteered to visit the local children’s hospital in Oklahoma City. He befriend a young cancer fighter named Stevie and her family. Stevie later lost her battle with cancer.

“It’s just something that’s always meant a lot to me,” Winchester said. “I just thought it was a good opportunity to kind of help represent them in any way I could, and hopefully they raise some money from the cleats and can just put that toward that cause.”

The Braden’s Hope cleats design blends elements from the both the team and charity’s color scheme. The gold cleats with “HOPE” in red letters feature a design by local artist Chris Sembower. He created artwork for six pairs of cleats for the team’s players, including Tyreek Hill and Alex Smith.

Shortly after Winchester signed up to wear cleats representing Braden’s Hope, however, another invitation came Winchester’s direction.

The native of Washington Oklahoma is a member of the Choctaw Nation. The Native American tribe comprises more than 220,000 members.

“I get that from my grandma’s side,” Winchester said. “It’s really neat just to be a part of it. I’ve got a lot of friends, some good friends who work for the Choctaw Foundation down in Durant.”

Those friends connected Winchester connect with Nike’s N7 Fund. The program promotes healthy living and disease prevention in Native American communities.

“The friends through the Choctaw Nation had told me about N7 and I’d gotten involved a little bit back in college,” Winchester said. “Being from Oklahoma, a lot of native history and heritage. He said we don’t have a Choctaw ambassador. They have a lot of different native ambassadors across the country, hockey, gymnastics, different sports that are N7 ambassadors.”

Winchester became the Choctaw ambassador for N7. That led to Winchester’s second invitation for My Cause My Cleats. Nike N7 surprised Winchester with a custom designed cleat honoring his Native American heritage.

“So now it looks like I have two pairs of cleats,” Winchester said. “Someway or the other I’m going to figure it out. I’m going to wear one for one half and one for the other and just try to represent as best I can.”

Winchester’s Native American ties come from his grandmother’s side of the family. She would tell stories about the family and its history. That includes the heartbreaking story of the family’s journey along the Trail of Tears.

“I guessed it would be my third or fourth great grandma – I get the mixed up, it’s a bunch of greats,” Winchester said. “She was actually carried as a baby from Mississippi, and her mother actually died as she carried her as a baby from Mississippi to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.”

That heritage means much to Winchester.

“You look back on your heritage, and everybody’s got some kind of story where there family overcame obstacles in life and it worked out,” Winchester said. “Very proud of it.”

Winchester hopes to wear each pair of cleats for a half against the New York Jets. He feels fortunate supporting two causes so near and dear to his heart.

“Now I have two pairs of cleats and I really want to support both causes, so I’m going to try the best I can to fit them into this game,” he said. “They’re both great cleats and look awesome.”


Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.