Fans might think Jerry Rice, at 56, should be satisfied to sail silently into the sunset reflecting on his Pro Football Hall of Fame status, three Super Bowl rings, and two decades in the National Football League. Indeed, the iconic wide receiver retired his professional cleats years ago.
Yet, he still uses his youthful, seemingly boundless energy to keep carrying the ball for the cause closest to his heart: tackling chronic kidney disease (CKD). “My brother Tom has CKD,” Jerry said. “I’ve watched him go to dialysis three days a week for years, which is really hard on the body. He’s a very positive individual. Still, sometimes I spend the long hours that he endures just sitting by his side. It was my brother, after all, who loved, encouraged and pushed me early on by telling me that I had to make it to the NFL.”
In a new PSA series for the National Kidney Foundation to be broadcast nationwide, Jerry focuses on promoting kidney health and raising awareness of kidney disease. Given his genuine concern about and personal connection to the disease, NKF enlisted the widely-beloved sports legend to help to speak to the general public as well as kidney patients. He already has lots of practice doing so up-close and personally whenever he joins his brother at a neighborhood dialysis center in Jackson, MS.
“I’d go there to mainly be with my brother of course, but I always walk around the room to say hello and socialize with the other dialysis patients,” Jerry said. “You don’t realize it until you see for yourself in centers that there are lots of people on dialysis. It puts everything in perspective whenever I start complaining. When I visit the dialysis center, people often know who I am and are happy to see me, and if I can bring a smile to some faces and make them forget even for a second, that warms my heart. That’s how I felt playing football, seeing the smiles in the stands and helping people to forget problems for a little while.”
Jerry is participating throughout 2019 in NKF’s continuing and growing Heart Your Kidneys (#HeartYourKidneys) public campaign to help elevate awareness of the kidneys to the status of other vital organs such as the heart. He is amazed that most people know very little about their kidneys and that some don’t know the kidneys are located in the lower back below the ribcage – or that each person has two. Jerry hopes his new PSAs with NKF will help change that.
“It’s important to me to keep working hard to get the word out with NKF, because you can see that this really hits home for me in more ways than one,” he said.