The University of Oregon football players, staff and fans are not only preparing for the upcoming season but, thanks to a fresh philanthropic collaboration with Nike and OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital, are also ready to help "stomp out" something bigger than their Pac-12 competitors—pediatric cancer.
Elite performance uniforms and cleats—co-designed by cancer survivors Sophia Malinoski, 10, Ethan Frank, 13, and Joe MacDonald, 14—were revealed at the recent kickoff event at OHSU Doernbecher and will make their on-field debut September 9, when Oregon plays Nebraska.
Though sneakers and apparel designed by Doernbecher patients have been a part of Nike's ongoing support for the past 15 years through the Doernbecher Freestyle program—where six patients each year get to work with designer and which has raised close to $17 million for the hospital since its inception—the Stomp Out Cancer initiative was the first time Nike got the Ducks involved and are having proceeds go to a specific cause in the hospital.
Doernbecher doctors chose Sophia, Ethan and Frank to each partner with an Oregon Football player and a Nike product designer to create graphics for the Ducks' special-edition gear that includes inspiring words and phrases, symbols of hope and images the children used to stay motivated as they were being treated.
"I thought of [the words] because I felt them when I was going through cancer, and I wanted to help other kids," said Sophia, who had a brain tumor. She also turned the second "O" on the uniform into a yellow cancer ribbon and had Donald Duck stomp on cancer for a fitting logo update.
Sophia, Ethan and Joe were all excited for everyone to see their work, not only on the helmets, jerseys, pants, gloves, cleats and tights but also on polo shirts, hats and the Air Max 90s.
"We've done some amazing things, but this is unique and has never been done before," said Paul Sullivan, the University of Oregon art director for Nike. "I think is going to greatly change the landscape of what is possible for what three brands can do to help fund local charities."
The idea to partner with the University came from a player in 2014, when Todd Van Horne, Nike's football director, came to campus to brainstorm ways they and Nike could work together to help end the fight against cancer. He said this will be Oregon's "most important uniform." After choosing the children in June 2016, the designers met with the patients four times, the players twice and have been keeping their work a secret since.
Though he could not share the news about the project he was working on with his friends, Ethan said "being able to have fun customizing jerseys and gloves, and raising money for kids that went through the same struggle as me" made him enjoy the process. He also enjoyed designing the gloves of the uniform as he always wanted gloves and was able to do what was never done before on a Nike football uniform: put letters on the knuckles that together read "overcome."
After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Ethan was scared, but he pushed through and encourages other children to do the same. He said: "Try to overcome your fears. When I figured out someone was going to cut my brain open and take a piece of it, I had to learn 'I've got someone that's been trained. I'm going to overcome. They're going to save my life. I'm going to be OK.'"
Executive director of the OHSU Doernbecher Foundation Jim Ervin agrees that the hospital has some of the best-trained staff in the country and is thankful for Nike's help in continuing to raise awareness of the hospital and its needs. He said: "Words cannot express our gratitude for this partnership. Everything you see [at the hospital] has been touched by funds raised through the #DBFreestyle program."
Sophia also shared how grateful she was for the experience. As a part of the program research, the patients also got to tour the Nike Headquarters, which she greatly enjoyed. But when asked about her favorite part, she said: "Showing off my designs today."
Doctors, nurses, donors, staff and family members were all surprised and many were in tears when they got to see the uniforms. In addition to the Oregon uniforms and gear, guests also got to see sneakers that marked key milestones of the #DBFreestyle program since the beginning. Display cases around the event included designs from the first year, Jordans signed by the Jumpman himself and auctioned off for $46,000, shoes purchased by Tiger Woods and more.
The place where they were celebrating was at one time the place where Joe went through six months of treatment after being diagnosed with Burkitt leukemia. Now fully recovered, Joe wanted to include camouflage in his designs because he said that "cancer is a battle." Taking Joe's lead, the designer not only included camo but added messages of courage and strength from the patients to tell a story.
Joe also wanted to include a fade on the cleats. He worked with Oregon defensive end Justin Hollins, who suggested the black, white and yellow colors for the design. The designs also are on a number of hats, T-shirts, and fiery kicks. All designs will be released and available beginning Monday.
In anticipation of the game on September 9, Joe said: "I'm going to be very excited to be able to see that I designed a uniform and they are playing in it. It's a dream come true!"