CHARLOTTE – When spring rolls around, Julius Peppers usually springs into action, having spent this time of year for his entire adult life busily beginning preparations for another football season.
Peppers spent another spring day at Bank of America Stadium on Friday, but for a decidedly different reason. Two months after announcing his retirement, he's making his presence felt in ways that go well beyond football.
"Moving forward, I envision a lot more activity," said Peppers, who is in the process of starting his own charitable foundation. "We'll be in the community a lot more."
Friday, the Panthers' finalist for NFL Man of the Year in his 17th and final season hosted three charitable organizations at the stadium, presenting each with a $10,000 check resulting from the Sneaker Ball he hosted on Valentine's Day.
"I singled these out because the things they stand for align with my values," Peppers said. "I feel like we all have the responsibility, the obligation to serve and help others. So if you're not doing the work yourself, try to support someone who is."
Representatives were on hand from the Young Black Leadership Alliance, the Center for Community Transitions and the Girl Talk Foundation.
We'll let Peppers explain how he picked the organizations.
"The Young Black Leadership Alliance, I was inspired by the work they've done to prepare young black students for college, exposing them to the world through travel and service and also helping them become leaders in the community," Peppers said. "With the Center for Community Transitions, I am someone whose family has been impacted by incarceration, as most of us have been, so I was excited to partner with them and their mission to support families who have had a loved one incarcerated and also assisting people to get them re-acclimated upon their release.
"And last but not least, Girl Talk Foundation and their mission to empower young women, help them become self-confident and build them up to be self-sufficient through character programs – I have supported them in the past. I've been a fan for years."
Janine Davis, founder of Girl Talk, fondly recalled when a young Julius Peppers new to the NFL first reached out to her organization.
"He was one of the first people to make a huge check presentation to Girl Talk when we founded the organization 15 years ago," Davis said. "I remember him calling me up and saying, 'I want to contribute to your organization.'
"And I was like, 'Is this really Julius? The Julius Peppers?'"
Peppers, while still understated in his late thirties, was even quieter in his early twenties. Very few people knew about that donation, but now that he's spreading the word it's serving to increase awareness.
"To be able to be connected with Julius and with the Carolina Panthers…is extremely impactful," said Charis Blackmon, program director for the Center for Community Transitions. "The platform that Julius has has raised awareness of parental incarceration in Charlotte."
John Martin, who founded the Young Black Leadership Alliance with his wife, agreed.
"To have someone of his notoriety supporting us, it's a big deal," Martin said. "He tweeted out 'YLBA' and our numbers went off the charts."
But it's not about a press conference or an opportunity to toot his own horn for Peppers. And it's not just about cutting a check.
"He actually came to our space and spent some time with some of our young people," Martin said.
Peppers has more time to give now that he's no longer focused on football. Late last season, when the Panthers were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Peppers said he "started to get some closure on it, that this was probably going to be it."
"I thought it was time," he said. "It felt like the right time."
Now Peppers has time on his hands, admitting that he felt a sense of relief when it hit him that he won't be returning to the stadium in 10 days when the Panthers begin offseason workouts.
"Right now I'm just spending a lot of times with my kids – getting them up, getting them ready for school, dropping them off, working out every now and then, running errands, doing stuff around the house and picking the kids up and spending time with them after school," Peppers said. "Just doing regular stuff, taking this time to relax and enjoy freedom."
That's a good thing for Peppers personally. And for Peppers' community.
View photos of the check presentations from the Julius Peppers Charity Sneaker Ball to three local charities.