CHARLOTTE – It's not often you see NFL players running around with puppies and neon colors on their feet during a game.
Sure, elaborate cleats can be seen every Sunday during warmups, but come game time, it's back to Swooshes and stripes. That won't be the case this Sunday, though.
Around the league, players will be donning intricately designed custom cleats for the fourth consecutive My Cause, My Cleats campaign during Week 14. But it's not just the typical superheroes or quotes you might see on a pair of pregame cleats – each of these pairs represents a player's commitment to a particular charitable cause.
For rookie edge rusher Brian Burns, that means the Route #53 Dawg Rescue Foundation, an organization Burns started earlier this year after entering the NFL. The main goal of Route #53 is to rescue battered, neglected dogs and pair them with loving homes.
"I've just always had a love for dogs since I was young and always had dogs in my house," Burns said. "At some point I had up to seven dogs in my house."
Whether it was picking dogs up off the street or saving them from being put down at the pound, Burns was always surrounded by wagging tails and wet noses growing up. As an adult, nothing has changed. As Burns says, he "only" has three dogs now, and he's still looking out for those dogs in need. One of his current pups, a rottweiler named Bronco, was on the verge of being euthanized at just two years old, until Burns stepped in.
Earlier this year, Burns founded the Route #53 Dawg Rescue Foundation, an organization to rescue battered, neglected dogs and pair them with loving homes. View photos of Burns' newest dog, Apollo, a young Presa Canario dog.
"Inside of me I just hate to see it," Burns said. "He wasn't neglected, but his owner didn't want him anymore and he was about to take him to the pound and put him down. I was just like, 'I'll take him,' because I didn't want to see him get put down."
The latest canine addition to the Burns family is Apollo. While Burns may call him his "pup" right now, it won't stay that way for long. Apollo is a Presa Canario, a breed Burns has always dreamed of owning, and soon enough his little puppy will range between 120 and 140 pounds. For now, though, Apollo is small enough that his picture was the one Burns chose to have painted on his cleats this week to represent his foundation.
Burns isn't the only Panther playing for a cause this week. Over 30 players will be representing different foundations on Sunday, and among them is wide receiver Jarius Wright.
Wright's cleats are neon orange to represent the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a non-profit organization that helps fund research to find a cure for the nervous system disease. For Wright, the cause is a personal one.
"My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis probably about three-and-a-half, four years ago," Wright said. "It's just something I wanted to bring more awareness to, because before she was diagnosed with it, I guess I really wasn't too aware of what it really was and the impact it can have on somebody's life."
Wright's mother, Jeanette, is doing well today, but Wright knows that not everyone who suffers from the disease is as lucky as her.
"She's doing well," Wright said. "For the most part, right now she's been doing good, but I think as you steadily get older and it goes on, I think it has more effect on you."
Edge rusher Marquis Haynes will also be donning a special pair of cleats in Atlanta – a royal blue and white pair covered with words of encouragement. For Haynes, he sees Sunday as an opportunity to take a stand against bullying.
The idea first came to Haynes while he was scrolling through social media and saw viral videos of students starting fights in schools.
"I've been standing up to bullying since I was in fifth grade," Haynes said. "Every time I saw someone getting bullied growing up, I always came to help them. That's always been me. I hate seeing that."
When he sees videos like those or news stories mentioning bullying, Haynes said he can't help but think about his three-year-old daughter and four-month-old son.
"If my kids were in a predicament and got attacked like that, me as a parent, I wouldn't be very pleased about that," Haynes said. "That bullying stuff, it's way out of hand now."
That's why Haynes hopes his cleats can help inspire others to stand up to bullying, too.
For a look at more pairs of My Cause, My Cleats, check out the full gallery below:
Various Panthers players and coaches will wear specially painted cleats in pre-game warmups that represent causes and charities that are close to their hearts.