Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s 5-year-old son Sebastian recently had a question for his father. He wanted to know: What does “Black Lives Matter” mean?
Gilmore decided to respond with a handwritten letter.
“Dear Bash,” it starts. “I know you’re only five years old, but by the time you’re able to fully understand the words on this page, I hope you don’t have to experience the ugly truth within my answer to your innocent question.
“I pray that it gets better very soon so you and [your sister] Gisele don’t have to experience this. I hope you know your mom and I will always be here to love you, guide you, and protect you to the best of our ability.
“Why do people keep saying Black Lives Matter? Because they do, son.”
The note, in its entirety, will appear on Gilmore’s customized cleats this weekend as part of the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, an opportunity for players to showcase personally selected causes and organizations on their feet. More than 1,000 players will be taking part this year, setting a record since the league launched the initiative in 2016.
“My Cause My Cleats was created out of conversations with NFL players who wanted an opportunity to shed light on causes that mean the most to them,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Each player has a story to tell and we are grateful for the impact they make in the communities in which they live and work, and society in general.”
According to the NFL, 20.5 percent of those participating chose social justice causes, while 17 percent chose causes related to youth and education.
Gilmore knew he wanted to highlight Black Lives Matter and his family’s foundation, but the idea for the design came from Miami-based artist Marcus Rivero, who spent almost 20 hours painting the letter along with two accompanying illustrations by Sebastian. The imagery on the cleats was not screen-printed or heat-pressed; rather, Rivero mimicked both Gilmore’s font and Sebastian’s drawings by hand.
The finished product meant a lot to Gilmore.
“My son, he asks a lot of questions,” Gilmore said. “He’s very observant, so I feel like we have to set a good example for our kids — having those tough conversations with our kids about how the world is right now and how we’re trying to fix it so the world can be a better place.”
Gilmore closed the note to his son with the following message:
“We say ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a reminder that we are still here through the challenges, and to give attention to the violence experienced by our Black brothers and sisters. We matter. We are teachers, professional athletes, fathers, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, and garbage truck drivers. Bash, you too will make the world go round. I pray for a day that you say those words in pure joy and free from sadness. Black Lives Matter.”
In addition to Gilmore, the Patriots will have 16 other players, four coaches, and one staff member participating in My Cause My Cleats. Among them is wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who also is calling attention to racial injustice by honoring the Black Mamas Matter Alliance.
“Anybody in my life knows how much my mom means to me,” Meyers said. “I feel like the only thing more disrespected than the Black man is the Black woman, honestly. I feel like I have a platform now where I can kind of speak out about that.”
The Black Mamas Matter Alliance is a group that advocates for Black maternal health and rights. Meyers said he wanted to identify an organization that helps those like his own mother, who was responsible for raising him, his three brothers, and, at one point, two of his cousins.
“She’s my rock,” Meyers said. “She keeps the family solid. I honestly couldn’t picture where I would be without her. She’s who I do everything for.
“She definitely keeps me humble, and, at the same time, she keeps me motivated, knowing that I need to come out here and get everything that I deserve. I definitely love her forever.”
His cleats, also hand-painted by Rivero, feature a black-and-red background with an image of a Black mother kissing her daughter. While some players are planning to auction their shoes off for charity, Meyers plans on gifting his to his mother.
“Hopefully, it’s something that will touch her heart, something that she can hold on to forever,” he said.
The full list of participating Patriots:
Center David Andrews: Warrior Dog Foundation and Mass State Police Memorial Fund.
Coach Bill Belichick: The Bill Belichick Foundation.
Safeties coach Brian Belichick: Travis Roy Foundation.
Outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick: One Love Foundation.
Running back Rex Burkhead: Team Jack Foundation.
Practice squad tight end Jake Burt: The Peter Frates Foundation.
Linebacker Shilique Calhoun: Father’s Uplift.
Safety Cody Davis: Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor: Boys and Girls Club.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore: Stephon Gilmore Family Foundation.
Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy: The Lawrence Guy Family Foundation.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer: MSPCA-Angell.
Linebacker Anfernee Jennings: Campaign Zero.
Inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo: BUILD Boston.
Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers: Black Mamas Matter Alliance.
Running back Sony Michel: Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and I Care I Cure Foundation.
Director of football/head coach administration Berj Najarian: Armenia Fund.
Defensive end John Simon: St. Christine Catholic School.
Wide receiver Matthew Slater: International Justice Mission and the Elisha Project.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham: Never Ever Give Up.
Running back J.J. Taylor: STOMP Out Bullying.
Offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn: Alzheimer’s Association.
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.