Photo Cred: Evan Siegle, Green Bay Packers
By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Ricky Jean Francois is more about action than words. While the veteran defensive lineman is very well-spoken, he’d rather get it done than just talk about it.
So, when his maternal grandmother passed away from breast cancer a few years ago, Francois did more than just wear pink cleats with her name, “Leomon Jones’’ written on them. He made breast cancer awareness a family issue.
“I was in Indianapolis with the Colts then,’’ Francois, now with the Green Bay Packers, said. “I wore pink Jordan cleats and put her name on them to pay respect.’’
He did more than that.
“You know how most grandparents, or even parents, are,’’ Francois said. “She never even told us. When it got down to the last phase, we went to Georgia to see her. I remember I was in the house when she passed. She just said, ‘I’m tired, I’m going to go to sleep.’ That was it.’’
Not for Francois, who began his ninth NFL season in 2017 with the Packers after stops in San Francisco, Indianapolis and Washington. He wanted to make sure the other women in his family took care of themselves.
“I was very close to my grandmother and when I lost her, as soon as that happened, I kept telling my mom you have to get a mammogram, you have to get a mammogram, just go and do it,’’ Francois said. “She would put it off. And I was like, I lost one important woman in my life, I can’t lose my mom. Just be responsible, take care of yourself, it’s going to take a few minutes out of your day to go and get something that long term is going to make you good in that area.’’
Francois finally convinced his mother, who then convinced the rest of her family and a small, but important part of breast cancer awareness was formed.
“She finally started listening and all throughout her family, all of the women started (getting mammograms),’’ Francois said “Was it hereditary or not? All my aunts, I was begging them to have it done, because long term it will make a difference.’’
Last year when NBA broadcaster Craig Sager lost his long battle with acute myeloid leukemia, Francois paid tribute with a pair of specially designed cleats that resembled the colorful sport jackets Sager made famous on NBA sidelines.
“That was an important man to the game of sports in my opinion,’’ Francois said. “Just listening to him and hearing him speak, seeing what he did, and to see cancer taking away an important person from us, I dedicated cleats to him, that matched the crazy suits he used to wear.’’
Francois has also been active in other areas. In 2010 he assisted the earthquake victims in Haiti and went back last year with his then Washington Redskins’ teammate Pierre Garcon after Hurricane Matthew hit.
And there are several other community and charitable causes that Francois has gotten involved in to make things better throughout his nine NFL seasons. It’s just something he feels the need to do.
“We wanted this platform of being in the NFL when we were growing up, we finally got it,’’ he said. “Now what type of impact are you going to make to the world? Not just where you played, or where you’re from, but to the world. How can you make an impact?
“As NFL players we can do this, we can make an impact. I mean we’re human, just like they are, by us giving back and helping and using our hands, not just saying, ‘We’re sorry,’ but actually out there doing things. Everybody looks at NFL players.’’