Our ongoing series "A More Perfect Union" aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we introduce you to an unassuming NFL star who has spent much of his life putting his time, heart, and money into helping kids in under-served communities here and abroad.
Chris Long is in his 10th season in the NFL and is currently a playmaker on the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles. But with a simple, empathetic gesture of putting his hand on the shoulder of teammate Malcolm Jenkins during the national anthem earlier this season, he took a step into a spotlight that Chris had always avoided.
"For me, my little gesture, it had everything to do with I thought what was right," Long told special correspondent James Brown. As Long stood with his hand over his heart, he also showed solidarity with his teammate who raised a fist in the air.
"I'd like to stand because it's something that would signify what I hope America can be. …I certainly empathize with the form of protest to draw attention to and inequities in this country," Chris said. "And I think, you know, it's not about the knee. It's what you do in your community and walking the walk."
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Chris does "walk the walk." After his "little" gesture, he made a big one by donating the last 10 game salary checks of his $1 million salary to education charities in St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia, the three NFL cities where he played in his decade-long career.
"Where did you get the itch to be involved in charitable endeavors?" Brown asked.
"Well, for me JB, it was having two great parents, as you know. My mother has been really instrumental in raising a lot of money through the Boys & Girls Club in my hometown," said Chris, who grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. "And my dad obviously, who played 13 years in the NFL, he grew up with a lot less than I had. And he gave me what he didn't have through football. So I feel like it's my responsibility, with this platform, to give back."
Chris is the oldest of three sons of hall-of-famer Howie Long and his wife Diane.
"The Long family has, for 20 years, been wonderful. It's not just Howie and Diane, it's Kyle, it's Chris, it's young Howie. So we're very thankful for the whole family," said James Pierce, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Central Virginia.
Pierce says Chris and his wife Megan have continued the tradition by giving money – and their time.
"Chris said to me, 'I'd really like to come by and you know, spend some time with the kids.' So I'm counting on 15 or 20 minutes. Two and a half hours later, you know, this picture was taken," Pierce recalled.
Last August, white nationalists held ain downtown Charlottesville. For Chris and Megan, it fueled a desire to do even more in his hometown and beyond.
"When you see it firsthand, you know, it was very real. I mean, they were literally in our home. And I don't think it's representative of Charlottesville," Megan said.
The couple met at the University of Virginia, where he starred in football and she in lacrosse. They plan to raise their son Waylon in Charlottesville.
"It wakes you up. You think you're awake to all these things anyways, but it heightens your sense of anger and your sense of, man, we gotta fix some things about this country," Chris said.
With that in mind, Chris used his first six game salary checks to establish two full scholarships for Boys & Girls Club kids to attend his old prep school, St. Annes-Belfield. That means he's playing for free this season. His high school coach John Blake is not surprised.
"He has always been one that's going to stand up for what he feels is right. He's also going to stand up for the little guy," Blake said. "I think he's a big believer in actions speak louder than words and his actions, now, are I think taking it to that next level."
"I just think we've been lucky. And I want to give people the opportunities that I had. … And now, as being parents, we talk about this all the time," Chris said. "I couldn't imagine our son, Waylon, not having, you know, everything he's gonna have. You know, you meet a kid, and now that we're parents, I feel like you're going to see your kid in that kid."
Chris is really making a difference in the lives of children. In addition to his education initiatives here in America, his charity Waterboys has raised $1.6 millon to build 29 solar-powered wells that deliver much-needed clean water to communities in east Africa.