NFL Hopefuls Pump Iron for Rare Diseases

Top college players tackle rare diseases with fundraising effort at NFL Combine.

Mosaic of players involved with Reps For Rare Disease campaign

(Photo Illustration/Uplifting Athletes)


More than a dozen top pro football prospects used their spotlight at the National Football League Scouting Combine over the weekend to raise money for rare disease research by jumping, punting and lifting weights.

Uplifting Athletes’ roster of players taking part in its “Reps For Rare Diseases” campaign represent some of the top programs in college football, including Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson.

Uplifting Athletes is a charity organization focused on rare disease. Its membership consists of college football players on more than 20 college campuses across the country. This is the fourth year it has sponsored its “Reps For Rare Disease” campaign at the NFL Scouting Combine, an annual gathering in Indianapolis where top college football players are evaluated on their strength and skills by NFL teams ahead of the league’s April draft.

Through the campaign, donors pledge a certain amount of money for every time a player successfully completes a repetition (rep) lifting weights. For example, donors to Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda’s fundraiser pledged a combined total of more than $150 per rep. By completing 20 reps on the bench press Saturday, Cabinda has raised more than $3,000. Athletes can also raise money by asking for pledges based on how far or high they can jump. University of Pittsburgh punter Ryan Winslow raised money on how long his punts stayed aloft.

The campaign began with a single athlete, former Penn State and current Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James, in 2015. “Reps For Rare Diseases” boasts a total of 37 participants in 2018, according to former Penn State wide receiver and NFL tight end Brett Brackett, who now serves as the charity’s Director of Chapter Development.

“In their athletic careers so far, this is probably one of the biggest occasions that they’ve had,” Brackett told Vita. “They have a lot riding on this, but they’re putting someone else ahead of what they’re doing.”

Athletes who weren’t invited to the scouting combine are taking part when NFL scouts come to their campuses for pro days throughout the month of March. Players that took part in the combine are still taking donations for several more days. The money will be distributed by Uplifting Athletes to several causes, including efforts to increase research and awareness of rare diseases.

Uplifting Athletes isn’t limited to players at college football’s upper echelon. The charity hosts chapters at programs of several different levels, Brackett said, in order to have as great a reach as possible.

“We know that one out of every 10 Americans is affected by a rare disease, so it doesn’t matter if you have a big platform or a smaller platform. Someone in your community is going to be affected by it and we want to be able to impact all of those people,” he said.

Uplifting Athletes began on Penn State’s campus in 2003. CSL Behring also has a strong connection to the university. Last year, Penn State announced a $4.92 million dollar gift from CSL Behring to create a multidisciplinary Center of Excellence in Biotechnology set to open later this year.