Written by: Jenna Laine, ESPN Staff Writer
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston stood in the end zone of the Bucs’ indoor practice facility Friday, reached down and grabbed the hand of a young boy — a Special Olympics athlete — who had just dropped a touchdown pass.
After Winston walked him back in line, and offered some pointers, that same camper hauled in the next pass thrown his way and Winston made sure they celebrated.
“It means the world to be able to pick any kid up, and to take them to the promised land, to put them in the end zone,” Winston said. “I don’t remember what I said to him, but I guarantee he remembers that moment. That’s what [this is] about — instilling those moments and creating those memories for them forever.”
For the fourth consecutive year, Winston covered the cost of 75 Special Olympics Florida athletes to attend his Dream Forever Foundation football camp. Winston’s goal is to promote inclusion, so that kids of all abilities can enjoy the same opportunities.
“I just wanted to take that extra step to invite them every year to this camp and just to show the kids, 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, and instilling in every one of these kids that they can do whatever they want to, whatever they put their mind to, they really can dream forever.”
In addition to end zone celebrations, the athletes took part in one-on-one duels with Winston, races against fellow campers and dance-offs to songs like “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X. There were plenty of high fives, fist bumps, pats on the back and even a ball spike as one camper caught a scrimmage-winning pass from Winston at the end of the day.
“For the most part, Special Olympics, it’s sad to say that we’re a very neglected group overall,” said Herley Pellew, manager of Unified Champion Schools with Special Olympics Florida. “Having someone like Jameis who treats them like everyone else — it shows them that not only do their families and the Special Olympics organization care about them, someone of Jameis’ caliber cares about them as well.”
“That sends a tremendous message to our group. Everyone wants to be included, everyone wants to be part of everything, so if someone like Jameis can speak up on their behalf, it’s tremendous to their confidence. Jameis is just such a tremendous ambassador for the organization overall. He is always very lively with our group of kids and very welcoming to them. As an organization, we appreciate that overall.”