Tom Crabtree stood on stage and told all of us he hoped never to see us again.
No, the Green Bay Packers tight end didn’t go all “Jay Cutler emo” on us. What he meant was that he didn’t want to see us at the 2013 Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Walk to Cure Diabetes because he wanted a cure to be found by then and therefore nullifying the need for a walk. People in attendance, including yours truly, applauded.
That’s why we were there. We weren’t there to talk football (although I sheepishly admit I asked a few football questions), we were there to spend time together and hear stories of people’s heroic battles against Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) of which there obviously is no known cure.
This cause means a great deal to Crabtree personally. His wife Chelsea was diagnosed with T1D when she was four years old. He lives the disease every single day of his life, and so do many others. More than 80 people are diagnosed with T1 each day and more than 3 million Americans currently have the disease.
Tom and Chelsea served as ambassadors for the 2012 JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes in Green Bay. However, knowing Tom and his knack for social media and how he enjoys interacting with his fans, you knew he was going to take it up another notch.
Hence, “Team Crabtree” was born. Tom (and his publicist Alex Tallitsch from First String PR) sent out tweets and Facebook message asking fans to join his team and raise money for the walk which occurred this past Saturday, May 5th. The goal for the team was $5000.
The team in the ended up raising over $12000. I did my small part and raised $305.00.
I arrived at the walk site in De Pere around 9 am and upon walking up to the registration area, I was immediately greeted with a hearty handshake by Tom. You could tell how much the event meant to him. I was honored to be a part of it.
Tom of course brought some of his friends along and by friends I mean Packers. Offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse took part and so did Tim Masthay and his wife Amanda. Tight end Ryan Taylor was also there and so was some wide receiver named Jordy Nelson.
Seeing Masthay, Nelson and Crabtree in full-on “dad” mode with their kids brought a smile to my face. Here these guys are, NFL players, and they’re just regular dads doing the things every dad does.
The way the other participants reacted to their presence just reinforced why there are no better fans than Packer fans. Here are five players of a team many of the participants practically bleed for and they just let them do their thing. No mob and no stampede. Sure there were requests for pictures and some autographs, but it wasn’t one of those moments when the entire crowd stops what they’re doing and turns around.
People weren’t there for autographs. They were there for a cause much bigger than the game of football. They were there for something that affects them, their sons, daughters, parents, cousins, friends and everyone else in between.
People have mocked the use of the term “Packer People.” It needs to stop. Tom and the players in attendance are “Packer People” personified. They represent all that is good about the Green Bay Packer organization.
Once all the pre-walk stuff finished, the walk began. It was a bit muddy thanks to some recent heavy rains and I had the honor of playing lookout for Tom as he was pushing his son Bryce in his stroller. It was a bit of a dirty job, but hey someone had to do it.
After the walk, Team Crabtree had a private lunch with Tom and family. Once we all sat down, Tom got up and spoke and thanked us and reinforced his belief that he hopes there is no walk next year and that a cure will be found some time in the next 12 months. Again, it was obvious how much this meant to him—likely even more than getting another Lombardi Trophy.
You know what, though? That’s perfectly fine
That’s perhaps what can be taken away from this experience: Football is just a game. Life is everything. Events and causes like what I just took part in is what really matters in the grand scheme of things, not a silly game where grown men bang into each other and all for maybe someday hoisting a big shiny trophy.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the game of football. Maybe even too much judging by the fact I dared bring up the game even briefly at the walk. Now that I’ve had a chance to sit back and reflect on the day’s events, hearing some stories this past Saturday made me realize how often I take the simple things in life for granted.
I enjoy being able to eat what I want. I don’t have to check my blood sugar daily and I don’t need insulin shots to stay alive. I never thought much about these things, but after the walk I am so damn grateful for what I have. It makes me admire those that live with T1D and being able to still lead normal lives and be happy. I’m not so sure I could do that and that makes them much stronger than me.
The war against T1D goes on. However, with people like Tom and Chelsea Crabtree on the front lines in battle, T1D doesn’t stand a prayer.
Just ask those who line up against Tom on the field during the season.
To learn more and help contribute to finding a cure for Type 1 Diabetes, visit JDRF.org
To learn more about Tom Crabtree and his family, visit TCrabtree83.com——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke