Special Olympics Florida

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston makes kids feel special

Written by:  Katherine Smith, Bay News 9

Angie Headrick knew her son was special. So she gave him a special name.  She named him Malaki. It means messenger.

He sent his mom a big message at Jameis Winston’s football camp. And mom received that message loud and clear as she watched her son running around the field with the Bucs starting quarterback.

“Just being here alone is such a treat,” Angie said.

Malaki is a high functioning autistic with Asperger’s. He was one of several Special Olympic Florida athletes who participated in Winston’s youth camp. The Bucs QB has included athletes with special needs at his camps because that’s what they want, inclusion.

“Just showing the kids, like we’re all on the same page,” Winston said. “That’s what my foundation is all about, evening the playing grounds for everybody to be successful and everybody to learn how to dream.”

Angie dreams big for her son. She’s always been his biggest supporter and protector. Her motherly instincts kicked in early on.  “I think people that don’t understand what it’s like to have a child with special needs, doesn’t understand what it takes,” Angie said. “ It could be the little small things, but as a parent, especially if you have another child, you just kind of notice that something’s different.”

Angie’s fought hard for Malaki’s acceptance. Just seeing him on the same football field as other kids is what every parent of a child with special needs craves.  “It’s all about support,” she said. “Everyone gets to play and teamwork, just uplifting all athletes and treating them all the same.”

“It’s about building an encouragement in them and a desire in them to compete every day,” Winston said.

Earlier this year, a budget proposal called for Special Olympics funding to be cut. An organization that strives to end the discrimination of people with disabilities found their way of life threatened. The proposal was discarded and Special Olympics continues to thrive, especially at Jameis Winston’s football camps.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect because we’ve never had an experience like this,” Angie said. “It’s overwhelming actually.”  Malaki means messenger. And with every pass, every catch, every smile, Malaki sent a message of acceptance and of hope.

“I see my son running out here with everyone else and no one here knows that he’s autistic with Asperger’s or anything else,” Angie said. “He’s just a team member here to play.”

“I don’t want these kids to feel like they have any limitations, especially out here, because football, the real world, it’s a land of opportunity,” Winston said, “and I want them to embrace that and go out there and achieve their greatest dreams.”