EAGAN, Minn. – My Cause My … Shoes?
Vikings players aren't the only ones representing causes close to their hearts this weekend during Minnesota's game at Las Vegas.
Coaches and the team's health and performance staff are also participating in the NFL's annual My Cause My Cleats initiative with custom-painted sneakers.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell is once again supporting the Jessie Rees Foundation, a cause he connected with during his time in Los Angeles. General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will wear one shoe representing the Minnesota Vikings Foundation and STEM education, and the other will highlight the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital mental and behavioral health program.
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels is honored to tribute the memory of his father, who passed away from complications of pulmonary fibrosis in August 2022.
"As coaches, we're not the ones on the field and might not get as much of the limelight, but we do play a key part in the football game," Daniels said. "For the NFL to take this measure and recognize us, allow us to be a part of the cause, I think it says a lot about what we're trying to do, what 'The Shield' is trying to do, to spread that awareness.
"I really appreciate the platform and being able to use this to promote the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation," Daniels added. "I think it's something that needs to have more light shed on it, and I appreciate the NFL for allowing us to do it."
Vikings Head Athletic Trainer Uriah Myrie echoed the importance of using one's platform for good.
"These are causes and foundations and areas that I don't know if you could ever spotlight enough," Myrie said. "There are a lot of human beings on the sideline of an NFL game. There are a lot of people, a lot of cameras, a lot of video angles … so to me, it's just a bigger opportunity to catch more people and draw more attention to those areas that need it and should have it. Having that opportunity is huge."
Below, we highlighted four members of the Vikings football staff, their respective causes and what drives their passion.
Vikings QBs Coach Chris O'Hara: Postpartum Support International
Chris O'Hara and his wife Cynthia welcomed their first child into the world during Week 1 of the 2020 season.
Besides being a stressful time due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of an NFL football season, Lincoln O'Hara spent 10 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after being born four weeks premature.
Then four months later, O'Hara was relieved of his coaching duties with Jacksonville and hired by the Rams – meaning the family moved cross-country to Los Angeles with an infant.
Lincoln's birth had offered Cynthia respite from hyperemesis gravidarum, a rare condition in which women suffer extreme morning sickness all throughout their pregnancy. But in the days, weeks and months following her son's arrival, she was hit devastatingly hard by postpartum depression and anxiety.
"I've watched her battle it, having to experience both of those things at the same time," O'Hara said. "I've learned a lot about it – but not enough."
Chris, Cynthia and Lincoln relocated again in 2022, this time to Minnesota to join Kevin O'Connell's staff. This past August, during Vikings Training Camp, they welcomed a daughter, Amelia, to the family.
"It made it tough again because I'm gone so much during that time," O'Hara said. "She was battling, at times, depression; at other times, anxiety. Being ultra-worried about the baby's health, and her health – and all of that while her body is recovering."
When it came time to choose a cause for his shoes, O'Hara knew immediately he wanted to represent Postpartum Support International.
"I've seen what she's gone through, and this is a chance to let her know that I see her; I see what she's battling. I support her. I love her. She's a true warrior," he said. "I want to raise awareness that it's a condition. It's not her choice to feel that way. It doesn't make her less of a mother, it doesn't mean she doesn't love her children. She's an amazing mother to both our children, and she loves them more than anything in this world.
"It's a condition that she battles – and so do a lot of women," O'Hara added.
He noted that while he can't relate to his wife's experience, he wants to be there for her however possible.
"If you haven't been through it, you can't truly know what it feels like. I can never know what it feels like," O'Hara said. "There's no harder thing than bringing a life into this world, and then having to care for that life while your body goes through changes, battles hormones and just the ups and downs of true depression and anxiety that, on its own stage, is hard. And then when you add in the postpartum element, it becomes ultra-hard.
"She's an amazing mom and wife. She's the rock of our family. It's a chance for me to raise awareness for a topic people may know about if they've been through it, but if they don't, there's people all over the world who battle it," O'Hara continued. "I think moms are true superheroes in this world – all moms. It's just a chance for me to raise awareness on a topic that's affected us and her, and it's a chance for me to show I support her in every step of the way."
Vikings athletic training staff: Catholic Charities Twin Cities
Myrie initiated the training staff choosing one cause to highlight collectively. Together they selected Catholic Charities Twin Cities and its Northside Child Development Center, which is a member of the National Courage House Network.
Myrie explained that while fans are familiar with the Ed Block Courage Award and players who receive the annual honor, many might not know about the foundation's broader mission.
"We just wanted to find a way that we can get our crew involved in a good thing," he said. "We present the award, and we get the guys to donate, but what's another way we can bring a little more attention to [Ed Block Courage Award Foundation] and do a little more than we normally do?
"Even to our players – they hear it, we present on it, some of them understand it more once they've been around the league for a little while, but even the rookies, the coaches, everybody kind of hearing it again or asking – that's kind of the reason we wanted all of us to have the same one. When you see it once, maybe you don't ask. But when you see the whole athletic training staff has it, it's like, 'Hold on. What is this about?' It'll have a little bit more pull, I think."
Myrie said it's meaningful to represent Catholic House Charities as an entire staff due to an existing closeness and camaraderie.
"We are very much like a family. We spend more time together than with our actual families," he said. "We do have a lot of things we like to do together as a group. … When we started brainstorming [for My Cause My Cleats], that storm got a little bigger and suddenly we were really cooking. This is our starting point this year; what can we do next year? How big can it get?"
Vikings Inside LBs Coach Mike Siravo: Special Olympics
Mike Siravo receives regular text messages from his brother Joe, who offers a few coaching tips and advice.
Siravo takes the feedback all in love from Joe, who is four years older and has a genetic disorder that causes developmental delays and differences.
Joe may face intellectual barriers, but he's demonstrated his athletic gifts over the years through Special Olympics.
"He's been competing with Special Olympics now for probably 15 years. He's very good," Siravo said of Joe. "He can bowl, golf, shoot hoops, whatever it is, at a high level. It's pretty interesting. He has a lot of limitations, but he can do some pretty cool things athletically."
Joe also serves as a coach and mentor within Special Olympics, helping teach fellow athletes how to swing a golf club or correctly shoot a basketball.
"He texts me every week of what we need to do, because he's a competitive athlete," Siravo said with a smile. "Joe means the world to me.
"I see his attitude, his approach to life with limitations, and still the joy of competing and of teamwork and all those things, and I'm like, 'I should never, ever have a bad day in my life,' " Siravo added. "It's just his approach to things. It keeps me on my toes, like, 'Get your head out of your ass. Let's go.' "
Siravo is grateful for any opportunity to support Special Olympics, including through the My Cause My Cleats initiative.
"[Vikings Head Coach] Kevin [O'Connell], [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] and our ownership have hired great people," Siravo said. "I think we have the best platform in the world in the NFL … so anytime we can bring awareness to or get recognition for Special Olympics or whatever the cause is, it's a no brainer. I think there's really great people here that are interested in doing it."
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels: Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation
When Daniels first heard his father Bruce had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, he hadn't been familiar with the condition.
He recognized the "fibrosis" term due to a close friend of his battling cystic fibrosis but otherwise wasn't sure what his father would be dealing with.
"I wasn't sure exactly what it was, what it would entail," Daniels said. "But I realized it's essentially a terminal illness. There is no cure for it. The average lifespan, they'll tell you, is 3-5 years, and that's on average. Some people don't live that long."
Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a process that causes lung scarring, in which fibrotic tissue blocks the movement of oxygen from inside the tiny air sacs in the lungs into the bloodstream.
Daniels also learned the condition isn't necessarily genetic but rather can be a secondary effect of some medications. This was the case with his father, who had Short Telomere Syndrome (STS) and Crohn's Disease.
Because there is no cure for PF, the main treatment is to receive a double lung transplant. But there are certain guidelines that must be met to be on a transplant list, and due to being overweight, Bruce did not immediately qualify.
"He had to drop weight," Daniels said. "He finally did make the weight, got on the list and … nine days later, boom, he was able to find a match."
Bruce was prepped for surgery. But as he was moved from the gurney to the operating table to receive anesthesia, he suffered cardiac arrest and did not recover, passing away minutes before the scheduled transplant.
The loss was devastating to Daniels.
"My father's everything to me. He molded and shaped me into who I am as a human being, and the decisions that I made from being a young child all the way up into adulthood, he played a major role in that," Daniels said. "They always talk about the guy who leads you to the water but doesn't make you drink it? He was that kind of guy for me. He'd tell me trouble was ahead, but then he'd kind of pat me on the butt and say, 'Go ahead; go see about that trouble.' That's kind of who my father was.
"He guided me, but he never really directed me. I appreciate him for that," Daniels added. "I just thought it was really important to honor him, his name and really what this cause is all about as they continue to try to find a cure for it. I want to pour everything I can and make more awareness as to the research that goes into it."