Former Rutgers football players host annual 'Tackle Sickle Cell' event
Former Scarlet Knights football brothers partnered with the Embrace Kids Foundation to "bet on" finding a cure for sickle cell disease for a fourth straight year.
Jason and Devin McCourty, both Rutgers alumni, along with the Embrace Kids Foundation, hosted their “Tackle Sickle Cell” casino-themed event at The Brown Football Recruiting Pavilion inside of High Points Solutions Stadium on Saturday night.
The event is a campaign dedicated to raising awareness and funds for sickle cell disease, said Glenn Jenkins, executive director of the Embrace Kids Foundation.
“We are raising funds that will then go for college scholarships, for young adults that have sickle cell, emergency financial assistance, individual tutoring, social services — really trying to build a full program for kids and young adults who have sickle cell," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said he appreciates the support and chance to work with the McCourty twins for this cause, as well as the efforts of previous Rutgers football players who came out to support the cause.
“Brian Leonard had started an event with us eight years ago,” he said. “(Jason and Devin) attended that event.”
After attending Leonard’s event, the brothers and the foundation met to come up with ideas for sickle cell fundraising.
“They were interested in sickle cell because their aunt has sickle cell,” he said. “They wanted to set up (a) philanthropic (event).”
But what really got the twins involved was seeing the foundation’s efforts in battling this disease, Jenkins said. It also helped that it was a home and school-based organization for the brothers.
“This is awesome,” Jason McCourty said. “Just to be able to do this the last few years, we’ve been able to partner with Embrace Kids.”
He and his brother also donated blood earlier in the day in support for the cause, he said.
“It’s just a blast to know that we’re coming out here for a great cause — you’re making a difference,” he said. “I think the best part is that you get to see some of the kids that you see year in and year out, some of the families — you start to build a relationship.”
Seeing the progress the brothers and the foundation have made since they began partnering is remarkable, he said.
“I remember Glenn saying that they didn’t really have a face and were trying to do something,” he said. “We just talked about trying to put something together, and now to think four or five years later we have casino nights — we’ve been on ESPN and the NFL Network talking about it.”
Jenkins believes having the brothers along in this cause is going to help push their efforts further.
“If you’re going to support a cause as a celebrity, then you must be connected to the cause,” he said. “You must meet the people that run it, be an ambassador for it and also meet the people it benefits.”
The brothers often visit children in the hospital while also learning the foundation’s functions. This allows them to be directly invested, he said.
Kosta and Georgios Kalogeropoulos are two young brothers that were born with the disease.
“It could be hard sometimes,” Kosta Kalogeropoulos said. “So when you’re sick, it’s hard to deal with, but overall it doesn’t affect your daily life.”
Georgios Kalogeropoulos said visiting the hospital can be a struggle.
“I have to get an IV and fluids or get medicine if it gets really bad,” he said.
They both visit the hospital about twice a year, for three days, to receive treatment. It took a while, but the family learned how to live with the disease, Kosta Kalogeropoulos said.
“(My mom) takes care of us,” he said. “She has to go above and beyond.”
He said the two need a closer watch, especially when they are running sick. His family has the sickle trait, which has been running in the family generationally.
“My dad has the sickle trait and my mom has the (folic) trait, so they both go together and make sickle cell,” he said.
But the Kalogeropoulos brothers said they appreciate Rutgers’ support because it allows them to meet new people and get involved.
More than $35,000 was raised on Saturday night, Jenkins said.
At the moment, Jenkins said there is no government funding for their foundation. But he thinks they should be supporting the cause at a higher level.
“I think that increased funding at a federal level would absolutely make a difference," he said.
Julian Jimenez is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in digital communication, information and media. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @JulianTheMenez.