“The children are our future.”
That’s something you’ve likely been hearing since you were a child. I happen to agree vehemently with this statement and I believe many others, including yourself, would also concur. To Chargers’ center Corey Linsley, this is a statement that drives him. It’s an ideal that’s kept him motivated to make an impact in his community, whether that’s been in Columbus, Green Bay, or Los Angeles. This passion for helping underrepresented kids has once again pushed Linsley into the spotlight for an award that’s deemed one of the most prestigious in the NFL: The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Linsley’s path to earning back-to-back nominations for the award started when he was still at Ohio State. He got involved in community service when former head coach Jim Tressel would have his players routinely visit sick kids in the local children’s hospital, on top of other charitable causes supported by the Buckeyes. Linsley credits that encouragement by his former coach as a key factor in developing his passion for giving back to the community.
“I have been fortunate to always be in a place where giving back really meant something,” Linsley said during his nomination press conference on Dec. 8. “It meant something to the coach. It meant something to the players.”
Those experiences in college eventually led Linsley to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a non-profit that strives to fight for children who are stuck in and/or taken advantage of in the foster care system. The group’s mission is to “provide a powerful voice and a meaningful connection for children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and abandonment.” Linsley was heavily involved with a local chapter of the organization during his seven years in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and of course that wasn’t going to change just because he moved out west.
For those of you still needing a bit more context for what type of support CASA provides for these kids, here are a few quotes from other CASA volunteers.
“These foster kids have lost trust,” said Pat Cahill, a CASA OC volunteer via the chapter’s website. “The people they trusted most in their lives got them into this mess — foster care, group homes. It’s my job to teach these kids to trust again.”
Another CASA volunteer, Joy Winger, offered up some additional context to what it’s like for kids in the foster care system and, I’ll be honest, this one should hit you pretty hard.
“I am the only person in my CASA child’s life who isn’t paid,” Winger revealed. “Everyone in a foster child’s life is paid: their therapist, their foster parents, their social worker. These kids know that. But when a CASA volunteer comes and says, ‘I am here, just for you,’ that is life-changing.”
So just sit and marinate that for a second. The majority of children in this country have at least one person who is in their lives of their own free will. But can you imagine being a situation where, if you take a step back and look around, that everyone you see is receiving a paycheck to simply be around you? Ask yourself: How would you feel knowing there’s a chance none of the people in your life would actually care to even acknowledge you if they weren’t being compensated in some way, shape, or form?
That’d be one heck of a gut-wrenching experience and it’s no wonder that Linsley, whose heart seems to only be matched in size by his play on the football field, wanted to get involved any way that he could.
And although Corey is the one with the recognizable name throughout the Los Angeles area, it’s his wife Anna whom he gives the majority of the credit to for their work with CASA.
“My wife and I have been involved with CASA for a number of years now and my wife does a great job with it,” said Linsley during his WPMOY nomination press conference. “She does more than I do with connecting with everybody. She does an awesome job. The people who work at CASA and the advocates are the real men and women of the year. They’re the ones that deserve all of the credit because the work that they do goes unnoticed. They never get to stand on podiums and accept awards. They are the ones who go in, day-in and day-out, and have a constant impact on people’s lives. They deserve all the credit and I’m happy I can be the guy that can get them publicity.”
Just like the children they’re trying to help, an organization like CASA can easily find themselves lost within the shadows of other more popular organizations, usually dedicated to helping the poor, disaster relief, and finding cures to any number of horrible diseases. But don’t let their lack of a spotlight fool you, CASA is out to cure their own type of illness within today’s society. It’s an illness of neglect and abuse heavily intertwined within a system meant to help those in such a vulnerable situation. The Linsleys are hell bent to help put an end to it.
And like the organization he’s working so hard for, it’s easy for his own actions to go unnoticed by those who aren’t already dedicating their timer to CASA. But as you’d expect, the publicity generated from his actions is far from the goal. In fact, simply knowing what his presence means for these kids is all the reward he needs.
“It’s not about me or my wife but it’s about the position that we’re in to be able to give back and give that publicity to CASA,” Linsley said, when asked what the most rewarding moments are to him. “Get the media and the word out there and the great thing those people do. CASA is all across the country and we’ve been fortunate to be involved with three great organizations.”
Heck, according to his wife Anna, a majority of kids he worked with in Green Bay didn’t even know he played for the Packers at the time. When Anna clued them in that his job had to do with the colors green and yellow, one enthusiastic child shouted out “SUBWAY!” which is objectively hilarious. Can you imagine Linsley making a footlong oven-roasted turkey on rye? No? Well, neither can I.
As entertaining as it would be to see the 6’3, 300-pound center throw together a comically-large sandwich, Linsley plans on leaving a much larger, longer-lasting impact on his community and the world as a whole.
Just what kind of impact is that, though?
I think it’s only right to let Anna Linsley do the honors with that one.
“I hope that in 10 years, when my kids are looking through a photo album ... I hope the thing that they take away from their dad’s legacy in the NFL is that he cared for others and he gave back to his community. He took the time to help those in need. I hope that it’s a lesson for them to continue that legacy.”
For all the kids currently in need of CASA, and all the future children who will unfortunately need it as well, I truly hope they do, Anna.
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award will be presented at the 11th Annual NFL Honors on Thursday, Feb. 10 on ABC.