Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay kicks off on Sunday and local officials have already warned about the rise of human trafficking that often surrounds the big game. For Minnesota Vikings quarterback and father Kirk Cousins, fighting human trafficking is a cause that is personal.
"I think about how fragile my boys are... and to think that anybody would take advantage of them or harm them, it makes my blood boil to think that does happen to young people all over the world in the tens of millions," Cousins told CBS News on Monday. "It's disturbing."
"And [human traffickers are] able to do this, they're able to get away with it because it operates in the shadows," he added.
This year, the International Justice Mission (IJM) – a Christian organization that works to protect people in poverty from human trafficking, slavery and other forms of violence – partnered with the Hillsborough County Commission on Human Trafficking to support their anti-trafficking work around the Super Bowl. High-profile events like the Super Bowl are often targeted by traffickers.
Cousins is part of the IJM's pro athlete group, Team Freedom, which includes other NFL players such as the New England Patriots' Jason and Devin McCourtys and Philadelphia Eagles' Zack Ertz. Like the rest of the players, Cousins wants to bring more awareness to the cause.
Nearly 25 million people are trafficked around the world, based on a U.S. State Department report. According to the Human Trafficking Hotline's latest data, Florida had the third most reported cases of human trafficking in the U.S. in 2019.
During last year's political cycle, supporters of theco-opted anti-human trafficking efforts on social media and peddled disinformation about those responsible. While Cousins agreed that it was frustrating to see it play out, he told CBS News that he recognized the difference.
"At this point, you know what's truth and you know what's not," Cousins said. "And so for me, I've been around IJM long enough to know that some things come and go, but the work that IJM is doing, the difference they're making, that goes way before any theories and it will be here long after."
"The only reason that it wouldn't be is if the work is finished, which is certainly a dream," he said.
When he was just 16 years old, Cousins heard a speech by IJM founder Gary Haugen. Almost 10 years later, when he played in Washington, Cousins was invited by a teammate to attend a benefit dinner and from there, he decided to be part of the cause.
"By that point, playing professional football, I did have the resources to help and get involved not only financially, but with the platform that that pro football provides us," Cousins told CBS News.
With just days before Super Bowl 55's matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cousins and other athletes backing IJM have stayed busy this offseason collecting pledges to fight human trafficking.
"If it truly is brought to the light and identified for the horrible evil that it is, people will band together to put an end to it," he said.
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