It’s hard to find a foundation in Pittsburgh that Cam Heyward is not involved in. Heyward, who was recently selected to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl, has made just as big of an impact off the field as he has on the field during his 11 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. For all of his work in the community, Heyward was recently named the Steelers’ nominee for the Walter Peyton Man of the Year for a fourth time.
Along with being involved in a slew of foundations, Heyward created his own foundation, The Heyward House, in 2015.
“I was going into my fifth year, and I had gotten to see what a lot of other players had done with their foundations and in their communities,” Heyward said in an interview with CBS Sports. “Working with my mom and my family, I always had a soft spot for giving back to my community, helping children who are at risk and trying to give children opportunities and chances that they might not get if we don’t help, as well as working with people who have brain tumors, because my dad suffered from one as well.
“I can’t be more thankful for what we’ve been able to accomplish. Whether it was book bag drives, shoe drives, to being to able to donate to the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation. We even started a special initiative called Craig’s Closet, which is named after my dad. He only had one suit in high school and college. Some kids don’t even have a suit, so we wanted to be able to provide a suit, whether it’s for a college interview, a job interview, prom, give these young men a chance to look good so they can feel good. My mom has helped out tremendously.”
Along with honoring his father, former Pitt Panther and NFL star Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, Cam created the Rufus and Jordan Literacy Program in honor of his grandparents, who were both educators in the Pittsburgh area. The program is part of Heyward’s Little Library Initiative.
“We’ve helped set up these small little libraries where people can put in books,” Heyward said. “It’s almost like a library system; they’re on the corner in some of the roughest neighborhoods, but it’s a chance to give back.”
Heyward’s drive to help others was fueled by his parents, who helped Heyward get involved in charitable work at a young age.
“My mom was always tough on us and helped us realize that we’re very fortunate, and we have a chance to give back,” he said. “It’s a responsibility that we’re fortunate to help the unfortunate. Whether it was growing up, being involved in Special Olympics and volunteering or handing out blankets around Christmas time, we were always big into that growing up. And then I got to see my dad, and I still get to see clips of him going back to Children’s Hospital and just going to interact with children. My dad had this big personality, and he always wanted to see kids smile and kids shine, and you could always see that when he would interact with kids in the community
“I still hear stories about my dad in Pittsburgh, but I also hear stories about my grandparents and how they helped change people’s lives, and how they were there for people. I’m just very thankful to be part of a family that cares so much about so many different people.”
A member of the Steelers Social Justice Committee, Heyward is committed towards finding a solution to the increased gun violence in Pittsburgh.
“These last two years, we’ve seen an increase in gun violence, and my community has been affected drastically by it,” Heyward said. “One is getting young people off the streets that don’t need to be on the streets. Working with people like the Homewood Children’s Village, a community center that provides opportunities for children and adults to focus on jobs and schoolwork. I want to educate myself, I want to be able to volunteer and I want to be able to donate. And I want to see the lasting affects to that.
“If you just look in your community, you can say, ‘I can help these people out.’ I want to be able to raise my hand and say I did that. I’ve seen too many tragic murders, and it breaks my heart that know that my children will grow up in a world like this.”
Heyward said that former teammates like Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith helped give him the template for creating his own foundation. He hopes that he can serve in a similar role for his younger teammates.
“It was just awesome to see these guys have different things they cared about and how much they poured into it, how much they nurtured it and got people to give back,” Heyward said of his former teammates. “I want to be able to provide that for young teammates as well. Whether it’s a guy like Najee Harris who I know is going to be a star for our team for years on. I see the work T.J. [Watt] is doing. It’s special. We have a lot of guys who want to give back and have big hearts that are going to continue to do great things around our community.”
At 32, Heyward hopes that he can continue to anchor the Steelers’ defensive line for the foreseeable future. He has shown no signs of slowing down yet, as the former Ohio State Buckeye currently has seven sacks, and interception and a forced fumble this season. But football is only part of the legacy that Heyward wants to leave behind.
“Wherever he went, he left 110%, on and off the field,” Heyward said when asked what he would want his legacy to be. “You can tell I loved it. I don’t want anyone to question what I loved and how much I cared, because I’ll put whatever I can into it.”