MINNEAPOLIS (AFP) – Chris Long has spent this season playing for nothing – but a second Super Bowl ring in as many seasons would be more than adequate compensation for the hulking Philadelphia Eagles defensive end.
The 32-year-old veteran made headlines this year by giving away his entire paycheck to worthy causes, a way of expressing gratitude for a decade in the bruising front lines of the NFL.
The articulate, 6ft 3in (1.91m) linebacker is now back in the Super Bowl for a second straight year, 12 months after winning the title with the New England Patriots, who he will line up against on Sunday.
As well as his salary give-away, Long has also been a vocal supporter of Eagles team-mates who have protested against social injustice this season.
Just as he did last year following the Patriots win, he has already vowed not to attend a White House reception should the Eagles win.
“Everybody wants to improve their country,” Long told reporters in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
“And athletes have a big platform. And at the end of the day I think we have a responsibility,” he added, while playing down the significance of his decision to give away his paychecks.
“I’ve been lucky, played 10 years and made a lot of money,” Long told AFP.
“So I make no bones about it. I’m not the first guy to give away a million dollars to a cause. There’s a lot of charitable guys in the league, and a lot of charitable guys outside the league.
“But the cool thing about my platform is that with social media I have a unique opportunity to get more people involved, and that’s what I did this year. I doubled my investment through fans, businesses, to grow.”
Topped up by matching donations, Long has raised just under $2 million for charities.His first six donated game cheques went towards creating two scholarships at a private school in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The money will provide two students with seven years of all-expenses-paid tuition.
His remaining 10 game cheques were divided up between the three cities he has spent his career in – Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis.
“Our educational system is certainly not perfect, so supplementing ways for under-served youth to get a better education is big for me,” he said.
Long is now turning his attention to stopping New England Patriots star and former team-mate Tom Brady on Sunday.
“It’s a tall task to frustrate Tom, but you’ve got to give it a shot and you’ve got to play your game,” he said.