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Christian McCaffrey and Shaq Thompson launch sports program for Charlotte’s underserved youth

 By Zach Goins

June 22, 2020

Photo: Alex Cason

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey’s impact on the field is no secret. But this offseason, the All-Pro running back is making sure his off-the-field contributions in Charlotte and across the Carolinas are equally impressive.

McCaffrey has launched “22 Together,” an initiative with teammate Shaq Thompson focused on uniting the Charlotte community through the one thing the duo knows best: football. 

The program, in partnership with The Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of Greater Charlotte and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Police Activities League (PAL), will provide underserved youth with free opportunities to participate in football, flag football and cheerleading leagues, with hopes of expanding to include other sports in the future.

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On top of making athletics easily accessible in these communities, McCaffrey and Thompson said they hope sports will act as a vehicle to help close the divide between the public and law enforcement officers in the wake of the unrest across the country. One way “22 Together” will work to accomplish that goal is by using CMPD officers and other community leaders as coaches and mentors in the league.

“Sports for me have always been a place for opportunity and for building a strong sense of team,” McCaffrey said in a press release. “It is a place where we can communicate values and begin building a more peaceful society. When we come together on a field of play, it helps unite us everywhere else.”

Thompson, who was one of five Panthers players to march in protest of police brutality on June 1, has also been active in the community this offseason. In April, Thompson donated 2,000 meals to healthcare workers across Charlotte. Now, he’s turning his attention to another issue. 

“When Christian called to ask if I would support this program with him, it was an easy decision,” Thompson said. “This is exactly what our community needs right now. Something positive, uniting members of our community and police. This unity creates a bond and focuses on kids, so no kid feels left behind and suffers.”

Monday’s announcement isn’t McCaffrey’s first act of community service this offseason, either. In early April, McCaffrey launched “22 and You” to raise money for frontline healthcare workers across the Carolinas and in his home state of Colorado. 

“After ‘22 and You’ raised hundreds of thousands for our healthcare heroes in a matter of days, I was in awe of this community and what it can achieve when we work together,” McCaffrey said. “Right now, it is important to make an effort to help our community work through the divisions that exist, and I believe sport can accomplish that.”

Marty Clary, the executive director of The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Charlotte, said McCaffrey and Thompson’s initiative couldn’t have come at a better time, considering the strain COVID-19 has left on the organization’s budget and resources. 

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“We know that when economic crises and other major events take place, the impact is felt most by our underserved populations,” Clary said. “For that reason, we are grateful to Christian, Shaq and their program for recognizing the need to not only support our programs and the kids who participate in it, but reach all community members to work together for a more peaceful community.”

The PAL, founded in 1968, began with four baseball leagues, and has since evolved to include academic enrichment programming in addition to athletics. Major Tonya Arrington of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the department takes great pride in the program.

“With the support of Christian, Shaq, and 22 Together, and partnering with the Boys and Girls Club, we can be united in our effort to reach more kids and, through them, have an even broader impact on our community, including for our officers who gain much from their experiences as mentors and coaches,” Arrington said.

Fundraising for McCaffrey and Thompson’s “22 Together” will begin July 22, with the goal of letting kids hit the field in August. To learn more about the initiative, visit 22Together.org.

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