He was in New York earlier this offseason to speak at a luncheon. Already a little nervous about the public speaking engagement, he went into full panic mode when he unzipped his suit bag to get dressed a half-hour before the event.
“I’m absolutely horrified because it’s one of my suits from 2008 at the draft. It’s one of those suits that I was just swimming in,” Long said with a laugh. “It was the style back then and I was about 20 pounds heavier. I freak out and I’m like, ‘What do I do?’ I start Googling places around my hotel and I find a Men’s Wearhouse, and even though I was kind of mortified to walk down the street in that baggy suit, I was able to find it and a gentleman helped me get the right fit. I got some slacks and a jacket and a button-down all within 20 minutes and was able to make my engagement on time and I felt good, I felt confident.”
Men’s Wearhouse later approached him about partnering on its annual suit drive to help assist unemployed individuals who are trying to get back into the workforce. For Long, it was a natural fit given his experience.
“They’ve been collecting these gently used men’s and women’s professional attire for I think 10 years now and they’ve collected 1.6 million items. A lot of unemployed Americans are feeling good about walking into their interview,” he said. “And it’s like in football we say, ‘Look good, feel good, play good,’ and it’s the same thing going into a business interview.”
Add this to an extensive list of outreach efforts for Long, who has become one of the game’s most forward-facing philanthropists. He donated his entire 2017 salary to increase educational equality in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia; he helped establish his foundation, “Waterboys,” and a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro called “Conquering Kili” in the name of providing clean water to people in East Africa; and he has been pushing for criminal justice reform as a member of the Players Coalition.
In a wide-ranging interview, we talked with Long about how those ventures are shaping his career, a tattoo-related bet that he’s about to pay up on next week and the driving force behind the “wave of the conscious athlete”:
Can you give an update on your offseason philanthropic efforts?
Little late with the group shot, but here we are at 19,341 ft for our @WaterboysORG #ConquerKili challenge! What an awesome crew. Thank you to our vets and athletes. Check out the link in my bio to meet the team and help your favorite member meet their fundraising goal! pic.twitter.com/Ql4xIVOt1I
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) February 26, 2018
“It was a lot of fun: In February we went to Tanzania as we’ve done the past few years, bringing wounded veterans, people who have served our country and retired NFL players, and our trip over there centers around climbing Kilimanjaro — 20,000-foot mountain, seven-day hike, really grueling and tough. But it brings a lot of people over there that wouldn’t be coming over there otherwise and it opens their eyes to really the important part, which is the villages we visit, the schools we visit, people without access to clean water. We’ve just funded our 45th large solar-powered well. As soon as that well is in the ground, we’re going to have in the range of 150,000 people drinking water from our devices. It’s been a joy and it’s picked up momentum. It was really hard to meet our goal of 32 wells for 32 NFL teams, but with the help of my peers in the NFL and fans, we have upped our goal to a million people served, so that’s really exciting.
“I’m just kind of drumming up some ideas for some educational initiatives we can do in the fall, taking advantage of the awesome platform we have as Super Bowl champions, and that’s kind of what we’ve got going on. It’s a busy summer, as usual. Running a foundation is never boring.”
Malcolm Jenkins described the uptick in player activity off the field as “a wave of the conscious athlete.” Any theory as to why athletes have seemingly become more involved over the past couple of years?
“I want to be careful not to say that we’re better than our last generation at helping people out. NFL players have always done a lot of good off the field, and I think now, the biggest difference is we have a platform that’s increased through social media so guys can run campaigns and get the fans involved who are so supportive and help us so much carry out initiatives. … There’s a lot of hard things about being a player under this microscope nowadays. The 24-hour news cycle is kind of insatiable. Players in the ’80s and ’90s didn’t have to deal with that scrutiny. But the trade-off is that we have an increased platform, so guys are using it. I think if you show a player an avenue to make a difference, he’s going to bring that same intensity he brings on the field in his community.”
What sparked it for you to really get involved off the field?
“I’ve always wanted to be involved off the field. I’ve just been very lucky. So you talk about being 22, 23 years old and you’ve done a good job playing a game, and all of a sudden you have a lot of resources to help out. I think it would be a wasted career if you didn’t max out your efforts and that’s really why I’ve done it. It’s really that simple. I want to be productive and you only have a little window to do it, so that’s what sparked it for me. And also learning from older players that have done a lot of good in the community and seeing the example they’ve shown. Earlier in my career, I wanted to do a lot of things under the radar because I felt uncomfortable in engaging with the fans because then they’re thinking, ‘Well, you’re doing it for publicity,’ or whatever. You’ve gotta get over that fear because if it weren’t for fans, we wouldn’t have been able to do half the things we’ve done off the field. … So you have to embrace that and have to kind of use your megaphone and do things for good.”
I know it’s been a busy offseason but have you been able to get the Ken Flajole tattoo yet? (Backstory: When Long signed with the Eagles last offseason, he was reunited with his former defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams, Flajole, now Philadelphia’s linebackers coach. Some friendly banter between the two last summer led Long to say that if the Eagles won the Super Bowl, he’d get a tattoo of Flajole’s face on his body. Well …)
“That’s going to be coming up next week. Been really just nailing down the design. … We’ve been working on the design, the location, and hopefully we’ll get that done next week before camp.”
What have you settled on?
“Well, I mean it’s pretty simple. I made a bet that I have to get a tattoo of his face on my body. There’s not a lot of leeway either way. (Laughs) But I’ll try to hide it relatively low. It’s not going to be tiny. I’m a big guy and I can’t have any tiny tattoos.”
Has the reach that being an NFL player provides influenced how long you’ve decided to play in the league, and have you contemplated what it will be like when you don’t have that large of a platform and how to still make an impact?
“I think No. 1, it has impacted how long I want to play. I think my favorite part of playing at this point is not just the game, but it’s being able to make a difference. And knowing that ability goes down when you do retire is relevant. But at the same time, if I was to say, ‘If I’m not playing football, I can’t make a difference,’ what do I tell fans, what do I tell business leaders that don’t have that platform, or a lot of the people I’m depending on to help me carry our campaigns? It would be hypocritical if I was to say I can’t have an impact if I don’t play football. You can definitely have an impact if you’re not playing football. That reach might be restricted a little bit geographically. You might not have that same pop on social media, but I’ll always be able [to be involved] whether that’s in my hometown or in the cities I’ve played in. And I’m excited about the transition, whenever that is. I’m very excited about it. And I’ve got some ideas of what I want to do. I’m hashing that out.”