Archie’s youngest son has written another chapter in “The Book of Manning” with an article published today on theplayerstribune.com. In “The Autograph,” Eli Manning wrote movingly about how a teenage boy with cancer opened his eyes to the suffering of others and motivated him to work harder to make a difference in the lives of young people fighting life-threatening diseases.
In the article, Manning recalled a visit to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, where he met Justin, whose head was bald from chemotherapy. Manning was an NFL rookie at the time, still some years away from winning his first Super Bowl.
“I guess Justin didn’t find out we were coming until right before we got there,” Manning wrote, “because he asked me for an autograph, and he had a marker, but he didn’t have anything for me to sign. No paper, no football, no poster.
“So he asked me to sign his head.”
Manning felt unsure about the request, “but Justin was adamant. He wasn’t going to be denied. So I signed his head. He was fired up. He was really excited about it. It was a special moment for him.”
The encounter with Justin was hardly Manning’s first time to reach out to those less fortunate than him. Like his iconic father, Manning has used his famous name to raise money for good causes and to add a little joy to the lives of others for years.
“The first time I walked through the hospital as a college student, I could feel a tugging at my heart,” he wrote. “How do I help them? I’m not a doctor. I can’t heal them. What can I possibly do?
“And it was kids like Justin who made me realize that one thing I could do is lift their spirits and get them to smile. Get them to have a good day. Without the means to do anything more, that was something, at least. So that’s what I did. And I learned that when you visit a kid who’s sick — one who’s really having a tough time or a rough day — and you get them to smile, it’s an incredible feeling. Or when maybe you can’t get them to smile that day because they’re shy or they’re just really down from their treatment, but you get that letter from their parents a few days later that says the kid couldn’t stop talking about the visit after you left.
“It doesn’t heal them, but it helps.”
After he started playing in the NFL, Manning and his family raised nearly $3 million to build the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics at the Batson Children’s Hospital. He and his wife Abby personally donated $1 million to the cause. In 2015, the New York Observer named him one of the nation’s “Top 20 Philanthropists Under 40.”
In today’s article, Manning wrote that founding the clinic was “the first step in moving past just brightening kids’ days and making them smile, to actually getting them healthy and back on their feet, back home to their families so they could enjoy life,” Manning wrote. “Because at the end of the day, no matter what you do, it’s about tangible results. It’s about a measurable impact, no matter how difficult that can be to measure.”
And while visiting the hospital’s construction site in 2008, Manning wrote, he encountered Justin again. “Four years after I signed his head while he fought cancer and endured chemotherapy and other treatments, there he was. Healthy. With a full head of hair. A cancer survivor.”
And, this time, Justin had something for Manning to sign: a football.
“That’s why you work and work and put in the time and effort,” Manning wrote. “For the moments like that. The moments where you can see the results of the work that’s being done and that these kids are getting better and back to a normal life. There’s no better feeling than that. And that’s what motivates you to find out who you can help next, and how.”
During my rookie year in the NFL, I met a teenage boy named Justin. He was a big Ole Miss fan, and a big fan of mine. He had cancer. His head was bald from chemotherapy. He had been going through a really tough time.
Rick Hynum is editor-in-chief of HottyToddy.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.