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Vikings Weatherly, Harris Voice Support at NFL 'Unsung Heroes' Luncheon

Posted Feb 2, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS – Steven Weatherly and Anthony Harris have given their all on the field the past couple of seasons. Now, they are teaming up for more than a football game.

Weatherly and Harris represented the Vikings on Thursday at the NFL’s “Unsung Heroes” luncheon that honored and recognized nonprofits – most of them local – that work to end domestic violence, physical assault and human trafficking.

The teammates are both active supporters of the One Love Foundation, which works to ensure that everyone understands the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship.

Vikings Vice President of Legal and Human Resources Karin Nelsen opened the luncheon and welcomed all of the attendees.

“The Minnesota Vikings and the NFL have an incredible platform to do great work in the community and to make a significant and meaningful difference in the lives of people,” Nelsen said. “It’s not only an opportunity for us – this is a responsibility that we have with the team, with this sport, and this is a responsibility that I can assure you we take very seriously.

“We are also so grateful to have men in our organization like Steven Weatherly, like Anthony Harris – men who care deeply about these issues,” Nelsen continued. “It is our honor to have men like this with us at the Minnesota Vikings, who are such high-character and high-caliber.”

Nelsen then personally thanked the nonprofits and all of their staff members for their dedication and hard work.

“I urge you to keep fighting this fight and to do your great work – and I promise you that the Minnesota Vikings are committed to these causes, and we will continue to help you in any way we can,” Nelsen said.

The Vikings were also represented by Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren and Executive Director of Social Impact, Brett Taber.

Following the lunch portion of the afternoon, guests then listened to a panel discussion featuring Weatherly and Harris, along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Ravens tight end Ben Watson, a finalist for this year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

Leading the panel was One Love Chief Executive Officer, Katie Hood. She explained that One Love had been founded in 2010 after Yeardley Love, a student at the University of Virginia, was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend. The foundation was established in her honor and strives to educate students about provide resources to prevent senseless deaths like Yeardley’s.

Weatherly and Harris each became involved with One Love through different avenues – Weatherly as a student at Vanderbilt who had experienced an abusive relationship himself and desired to help train fellow students about healthy relationships.

Harris, a native of Richmond, Virginia, who attended UVA one year after Yeardley’s death, didn’t become heavily involved with the foundation until recently.

“I always wanted to join something like that … but it wasn’t until this past year, when the ‘My Cause, My Cleats’ [initiative] came up,” Harris said. “For me, I’ve been in the NFL for three years and had never participated. One, because I wanted to participate and attach myself to an organization that I felt deeply rooted in. Or that I could potentially build a relationship with for the long-term – not just for the purpose of displaying something on my cleats for the weekend.

“When Steven spoke of Yeardley, the lightbulb clicked right away,” Harris added. “I knew it was something that I wanted to share and, being a UVA graduate, show support and be able to give back to his cause. So from there, that’s when it took off.”

Hood asked about takeaways the men have made from their personal effort against domestic violence or sexual assault.

Weatherly emphasized the importance of community.

“When the community is behind you, you’d be amazed at what you can accomplish and just get off your chest, how much better you feel when you know there’s at least one other person willing to listen and hear what you’re going through,” Weatherly said. “I feel like that really speaks to everyone in this room as being that ‘someone’ for someone to open up to.”

Goodell spoke openly and honestly, saying he has done a “tremendous amount of learning” over the past few years about the issues at hand.

“I think the most important thing was recognizing that we had a lot to learn – to make sure that we make a commitment to make a difference,” Goodell said. “For our organization it was, once we figured out the types of ways we could make a difference, to make sure we had that 110-percent commitment that we weren’t going to stop; it wasn’t going to be the ‘issue of the day.’ This was something that we wanted to continue for the long-term. We know that it affects people, obviously, within the NFL, but we know it affects people in our communities that are so important to us.

“We saw the work that you’re doing and the emotional toll it takes,” Goodell said. “We recognize that you all are the ones who are doing that work and the importance of that work, so we just wanted to have this to thank you and make sure you understand [how grateful we are] for the work that you do.”

Watson, a husband and a father of five, just wrapped up his 14th season in the NFL. The veteran tight end stressed the responsibility that he and others in the NFL have to take a stand.

“While men are usually – not all the time, but if you look at the numbers – while men may be the perpetrators when it comes to sexual assault, domestic violence or even trafficking of any sort, men also hold the power to be the solution,” Watson said, to which he received loud applause of affirmation.

“It’s important for men to stand up to other men in the conversations that we have, in the jokes that we laugh at and the things that we watch. And the way we talk about women or other men, whatever it may be, it’s important that men challenge men. And that [can be] uncomfortable,” Watson said. “But this topic, this issue, these human lives, are much too important for us not to stand up to them.

“Men, hey, we have the ability to turn this thing around,” he added.  

Sharon Love, Yeardley’s mother, attended the luncheon and expressed the impact that Weatherly and Harris, and Watson in his respective work, have made across the country but also on her personally.

“I’m so honored to be here today, and I’m so honored that these guys have taken time out of their hectic and demanding schedule. They’ve taken the time to realize that there’s other issues, and they’ve chosen to support the One Love Foundation,” Love said with a smile. “I can’t thank them enough. I’d like to pack them up and take them home with me, feed them a nice dinner.”