When Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis Sr. signed one-day contracts to retire as Carolina Panthers in March, owner David Tepper made a point to reference what they had done for the community. The efforts of Olsen, Davis and former Panthers QB Cam Newton stood out to him when he purchased the team in 2018, as they had in the city of Charlotte for years.
Christian McCaffrey has since taken over the Panthers’ “face of the franchise” designation, following the retirements and releases of a handful of veterans. It was a natural fit.
Becoming the highest-paid running back in NFL history helps with that, of course, and his willingness to be involved with the community was also part of the calculation involved in signing him to the deal when the team did.
Over the past week, McCaffrey’s increased efforts and presence in the Charlotte community were on full display, from stopping by Lowe’s Home Team and Purple Heart Homes renovation of a Korean War veteran, Grover Monk’s, house in Concord; to playing piano onstage with active-duty member of the U.S. Navy and country singer Zach Bryan at a sold-out benefit concert held by McCaffrey’s foundation.
While his success has been rapid on the field, McCaffrey, 25, used patience when deciding how to use his platform. What could he do to have a similar impact? He has known that he wanted into to involve the military, having grown up near the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
“It’s always been important … I’ve really figured out the right team, the right people to involve myself with,” McCaffrey said. “I don’t have all the answers. This is something that’s going to require everyone’s effort now as far as taking care of our veterans.”
McCaffrey has begun to carve out his vision; getting the Christian McCaffrey Foundation off the ground in November 2020, working with teammate Shaq Thompson to give back and supporting various efforts related to COVID-19 frontline workers. 22 and Troops is the arm of the Foundation dedicated to supporting efforts related to giving back to the military.
The cause is also personal to the running back in a different way. McCaffrey is associated with many statistics, but there is a big one that he is trying to help change for the better: Each day 22 veterans commit suicide, per the Christian McCaffrey Foundation.
“Mental health is an unbelievably important topic, especially today,” McCaffrey said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been not a part of, but I’ve experienced friends who have lost their lives through mental health issues and who’ve struggled a lot due to mental health.”
McCaffrey’s former Stanford teammate and close friend, Zach Hoffpauir, dealt with depression and attempted suicide before passing away a year later due to another cause, per his father, in 2020.
During the about 2,000-person concert held at The Fillmore on Friday night — all the proceeds went to 22 and Troops — Bryan also spoke about losing a friend to suicide this year, the impact that has had on him and the importance of checking in on active-duty military, veterans and their families. Since 2001, more than 114,000 veterans have died by suicide, per stopsoldiersuicide.org.
While McCaffrey’s learned from the likes of Olsen and Newton, this is his way of doing things. Jokes about how he’s not the best at drilling nails into a wood ramp and waiting until the final song of the night for a breakout piano solo at the first piano “recital” of his life, with Luke Kuechly among the attendees, are more par for the course.
But the long-term impact? He wants these types of events to be a part of the Charlotte community for years to come, perhaps it will be a part of his own legacy during a retirement ceremony when the time comes.
“I have a vision for how I would love this to go,” McCaffrey said. “I would love to build this to be as big as possible. The goal is to raise a lot of money and save a lot of lives. That’s the key.”
To support 22 and Troops, text “donate” to 704-324-8344 or visit 22andTroops.org.