Christian Darrisaw always knew that once his dream of making it to the NFL was realized, so too would be his dream of making an impact in and around his community.
For the Vikings rookie left tackle, that has meant giving back in Virginia, where the Maryland native attended college, as well as the community around his new home in the Twin Cities.
Darrisaw was introduced to Ronald McDonald House Charities soon after graduating from Virginia Tech, where he started 10 games as the Hokies left tackle in 2020 and was a First-Team All-ACC selection.
Ronald McDonald House Charities is a unique nonprofit that has a presence in more than 62 countries around the world and operates three main programs:
325+ Ronald McDonald House programs provide comfort, support and resources to families who travel far from home for the medical care their child needs.
265+ Ronald McDonald Family Room programs provide comfort to families in hospitals, giving them private places to relax or decompress.
45+ Ronald McDonald Care Mobile Programs bring medical, dental and health care resources to underserved communities where they're needed the most.
We recently caught up with Christian for a Water Break, presented by Crown Royal, to discuss his desire to make a difference and discuss why he chose Ronald McDonald House Charities for the NFL's My Cause My Cleats game against the Steelers.
Christian was sidelined by injury for the Thursday Night Football game, but he plans to give the custom-designed kicks back to the Ronald McDonald House in Roanoke, Virginia, to be auctioned as a fundraiser.
Q: What drew you to Ronald McDonald House Charities, and how have you been involved?
A: "I didn't know anything about Ronald McDonald House until my marketing advisor presented it to me, and I knew it was the one I wanted to do. The kids, they're going through rough times, and their family might not be able to [afford housing nearby on top of medical bills]. For them to take whole families in – provide meals, a place to stay, stuff like that – it's really unique. That's what drew my attention right away.
"They were the first charity I got partnered with right out of college … it felt like the right fit, the right choice, for me. I donated $15,000 during the bye week, and we're doing a challenge, a workout fitness challenge, to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Virginia."
View photos of Vikings players' custom cleats in honor of the NFL's 2021 My Cause My Cleats initiative that allows players to express their commitment to causes that are important to them.
Q: Were you involved in community work during your time at Virginia Tech?
A: "Not really anything crazy at that time. My 2019 season, we did a turkey giveaway for Thanksgiving. Last year we weren't able to do much because of COVID-19 and everything."
Q: Where does this desire to come back come from?
A: "It's just the platform that I have now, and the ability, really. People look up to me, and giving back to the community is something that, when I was growing up, I was seeing other NFL players do, and I looked up to them. I wanted to be in their shoes, be in their position, so it's something I've always wanted to do. I told myself if I had the opportunity to do it, I would."
Q: Were there specific athletes you saw in your community?
A: "Not really anyone specific that came back to my community. [NBA Star] Kevin Durant is from P.G. (Prince George's) County [where I went to high school], maybe Kevin Durant. Not everybody is fortunate enough to grow up and have everything they need, so for those less-fortunate kids, to be there and be a light, just help provide for them, anything you can do, it helps them and their families."
Q: Why do you believe it's important for athletes to give back?
A: "Not everyone comes from an upper-class or middle-class family. Some people might not even [have basic needs]. So being able to do this kind of stuff, especially around the holidays – there might be kids who only get one present, maybe two presents. Growing up, I was an only child, so I was very fortunate to get anything I wanted, and I knew it wasn't like that for all kids. So being able to provide, just give back something, I feel like it makes a difference for those kids who need it."
Q: You've mentioned the 'culture' of the Vikings offensive line group off the field. How do you see that show up on a daily basis?
A: "We have a fine jar for our room, and at the end of the year, we take the money and donate it to a cause or charity. You can tell even by that, the [older players] aren't just spending money or blowing it on stupid stuff. I just feel like anytime they have the opportunity to give back, they do it."