When the Eagles take the field against Washington tonight, defensive lineman Chris Long will be playing for free. The veteran lineman, and son of Pro Football hall-of-famer Howie Long, is donating this season’s entire salary to help kids in Philadelphia and elsewhere get a better education.
“I’ve been lucky to make a lot of money playing football,” Long, 32, said after he formally made the announcement last week at the Bracetti Academy Charter School in North Philadelphia.
“I don’t think this is a heroic effort,” he added. “I just think this is something I honestly wanted to do and I’m just going to do it. If I gave this money three years down the road when I’m not playing football, I’d just be a guy giving a bunch of money. I wouldn’t be able to multiply it.”
Long is in the first year of a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Eagles, after one season with the New England Patriots and eight seasons with the Rams in St. Louis.
“For somebody who sees one thing every day, to be able to get out in the world and see what’s out there and to have positive role models in their lives, that’s something I wish that I knew when I was younger, but these kids are really blessed to have resources like this,” he said.
Long will donate the money to organizations in Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis as a part of his Pledge 10 for Tomorrow initiative. He played in those other cities earlier in his career.
To whichever city donates the most money by the end of the regular season, Long will send an additional $50,000. He has currently raised nearly $200,000 overall and says fellow players around the league are joining in, too.
“I’ve already had an NFL player pledge $50,000 the rest of the season who has nothing to do with this market and hadn’t been — to my knowledge — that involved in education,” Long said. “It’s something that we can get behind as a powerful tool for the youth and the future of our country.”
Long has already donated his first six game checks — each one is nearly $50,000 — to fund scholarships in his native Charlottesville, Virginia, along with working with that city’s Boys & Girls Club. In Philadelphia, he will work with Summer Search, a San Francisco-based mentoring program for teens that promotes educational equity starting in 10th grade and running through college. The Philadelphia chapter was founded in 2008.
“We need to have the same resources that kids in other ZIP codes have,” said Sylvia Watts McKinney, the executive director of Summer Search Philadelphia. “Educational equity is giving them the shot to be able to compete in the global marketplace. So if we have a group of children who are not learning for other reasons, then we have to do something about it.”
As for playing this season for free, Long said his wife has been supportive of the idea, knowing the money will be used to help better the community in three cities.
“I’m the type that’s not going to give much warning and I’ll come home on a Wednesday and say ‘I think I’m going to play for free this year,’ ” he said. “And she’s like, ‘Oh that’s really cool. Tell me more about it’ and not, ‘What the hell’s wrong with you?’ So I’ve got a great family and it takes a lot of people to put this effort together.”