It’s the season of giving, and the 49ers consistently give back to the communities around the Bay Area in a big way. It’s also the time of year when players debut their “My Cause My Cleats,” representing big and small charities and sometimes putting them on the map. These are just some of the many unique groups players have chosen to spotlight this season.
River Cracraft: Hilinski’s Hope Foundation.
Hilinski’s Hope Foundation honors the life and legacy of Tyler Hilinski, a former college football player who passed away after committing suicide. The foundation's website helps colleges and universities end mental health stigma through mental wellness programs for student-athletes by sharing Tyler’s story and connecting students with the right resources. Recently the organization held its second annual College Mental Health Week in October, where it united more than 50 colleges and universities nationwide to eliminate mental illness stigma. Hilinski was Cracraft’s teammate at Washington State.
Alex Barrett: A Walk on Water.
A Walk on Water is all about surf therapy for people with unique abilities and needs. AWOW believes in the healing powers of the ocean and beach and how it can build confidence in its participants. While it primarily serves people who live with Autism, AWOW is fully inclusive to folks who have other abilities. Surf therapy isn’t the only thing participants do either: AWOW often has yoga, massage therapy, art therapy, and other activities going on the beach. And no, participants don’t have to know how to swim! Barrett mentioned the cause is particularly impactful to him as his brother Carmelo lives with Autism, so both Carmelo’s name his favorite dinosaurs are on Barrett’s cleats.
Darrion Daniels: Lupus Foundation of Northern California.
The NorCal Chapter of the Lupus Foundation has been around for 40 years. Given the socio-economic diversity of the region, the Lupus Foundation hopes to serve the community with a wide array of resources to meet the needs of its patients. There’s a special connection for Daniels, who mentioned on Instagram that his mother-in-law lives with Lupus. Daniels described the impact Lupus has on certain communities on his Instagram: “Lupus primarily affects people of color, especially African Americans. I hope to continue to advocate for and bring awareness for this organization and all those affected by Lupus.”
Jake Brendel: Living for Zachary.
Who is Zachary? Zachary Schrah grew up in Plano, Texas, where he played high school football at Clark High School. He was slated to play varsity on the offensive line when he collapsed from Sudden Cardiac Arrest during practice in 2009. There were no warning signs. Later his family learned he passed away from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which causes SCA in young people. Now the organization serves youth across Texas by doing heart screenings, giving out AEDs, hosting CPR/AED certification classes, giving away scholarships, and holding awareness events. Brendel, an offensive lineman just like Zac was, said on Instagram the nonprofit is a cause close to his heart.
Daniel Brunskill: TR 4 Heart and Soul.
Working with animals can be therapeutic, and that’s exactly what TR 4 Heart and Soul does with horses. The non-profit offers riding classes for folks with different disabilities, physical and emotional needs. Their classes range from rehabilitation courses that help riders build their strength, balance, and coordination, cognitive classes that develop planning, judgment, memory, and orientation skills, and sensory classes that work on body awareness, motor coordination, and cause and effect skills. All of this is done out of the organization’s barn in Bismark, North Dakota. Brunkskill’s cleats feature a silhouette of a horse and the words “heart and soul.”
Kentavius Street: Until Freedom Social Justice.
This foundation is a social justice organization led by a diverse group of people of color to address racial injustice. According to their website, they believe those who most closely understand the pain racial injustice causes will be the solution. To work towards that solution, Until Freedom works on campaign development, rapid response, and triage when tragedy strikes, media advocacy, faith-based outreach and engagement, and working with influencers to elevate the reach of their campaigns and stories. The organization notes that everyone is needed to win. Right now, that includes advocates, activists, community organizers, students, lawyers, entertainers, artists, policy experts, people who have been incarcerated, and gun violence survivors. The goal, they say, is to uplift. Street goes on to say in his post, “Beyond grateful for the work they do in and their amazing team...Everyone is worthy. Everyone is needed to win.”
Arik Armstead: Armstead Academic Project.
This one is personal for Arik Armstead, as he’s chosen to represent his own foundation on his cleats, the Armstead Academic Project. The goal is to make sure students, no matter what socioeconomic background they come from, have access to a good education with a positive learning environment and the resources they need to be successful. In late September, Armstead partnered with Mercy Homes (an affordable housing developer in Sacramento) to donate $250,000 and launch Armstead Academy, an after-school program for 7th-12th graders. The funds went to middle and high schoolers in Armstead’s native Sacramento, where the money will go towards staffing supplies and field trips. In addition, Armstead will be auctioning off his cleats, where all proceeds will go right back into the nonprofit.
Laken Tomlinson: NAMI Mental Health.
Laken Tomlinson has always been a huge advocate for mental health, so it makes perfect sense why he’d want to represent the National Alliance on Mental Health on his cleats. NAMI describes itself as the leading voice on mental health with more than 600 local affiliates who raise awareness and provide support and education. That means NAMI hosts education programs on mental health to make sure families have the information they need, work on public policy for people with mental illnesses to make sure mental health is being advocated for a local, state, and federal level, host events like Mental Illness Awareness Week and NAMI Walks to fight the stigma, and also have a toll-free helpline. This group, in particular, is very important to Tomlinson, who has represented them on his cleats since 2019.