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ADA Partners with NFL Players for “Team Tackle” Initiative, Raising Conversation Around Diabetes

Updated: 8/14/21 5:00 amPublished: 4/22/16
By Cheryl Alkon

How sports can be a platform to tackle diabetes awareness and stigma.

The American Diabetes Association recently launched its new “Team Tackle” initiative, a collaboration between former, current and future professional football players with personal connections to diabetes and the ADA to increase the national level of awareness and conversation around diabetes. Our team attended the ADA’s press conference in Washington DC, which was attended by key figures including CEO of the ADA, Kevin Hagan, co-chairs of the Senate Diabetes Caucus, Sens. Susan Collins and Jeanne Shaheen, and about 30 pro football players. It was inspiring to see support for diabetes from all sectors, including patients, providers, caregivers, government, and media.

Team Tackle aims to raise public awareness of the magnitude and significance of the diabetes epidemic and to motivate greater urgency for action. Public attitudes and associated stigma is a tremendous problem in diabetes, and this effort aims to leverage the voices of public figures to make diabetes more visible, humanize the disease, and move the needle on public health. The initiative has also already gathered more than 79,000 signatures (far exceeding their goal of 50,000) for an ADA petition urging Congress to increase funding for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) for research to prevent diabetes, improve care and continue the quest for a cure for diabetes of all types, support the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation to educate families about diabetes, and increase funding to the National Diabetes Prevention Program. We were inspired by the level of enthusiasm in the room, and hope that this ambitious initiative can make much-needed change in public mindsets around diabetes.

Top Quotes from the Event

Speakers emphasized using sports as a platform to spark conversation and address diabetes stigma.

  • “If a professional athlete – someone in peak physical fitness – can have diabetes, then it makes it clear that it can happen to anyone… that diabetes does not discriminate.” – Lorenzo Alexander, professional football player (@onemangang97)

Conversation also included the challenge to get Medicare coverage of CGM. 

  • “Jeanne Shaheen and I are determined to get Medicare to cover CGM. It makes no sense at all that Medicare doesn’t cover this. This is just out of whack and it’s something we’re going to work on. I am convinced that today’s investments will yield better care and treatment for tomorrow.” – Susan Collins, Senator, R-ME

Speakers applauded Medicare’s recent decision to reimburse the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), broadening DPP access to over 22 million American seniors with prediabetes.

  • “We are on the cusp of change. I applaud the recent announcement from Medicare to cover the National Diabetes Prevention Program. I look forward to the day that artificial pancreas technologies are available. I will continue to advocate for patients because these are opportunities should be available to EVERY patient who needs them and wants them.” – Jeanne Shaheen, Senator, D-NH

Patients and caregivers spoke on how diabetes has made profound change in their lives.

Speakers included 11-year-old Aiden Dine with type 1 diabetes, Mr. Mike Golic and Ms. Michelle Foster with type 2 diabetes, and Mr. Dont’a Hightower and Mr. Lorenzo Alexander who have family connections with diabetes.

  •  “Most of my friends know that I have diabetes. But they don’t know how serious this is. They don’t know what it’s like to wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning to check my blood sugar. It’s no wonder my mom and I look so tired the next day. Imagine taking a math test the next day. Imagine eight days like that. It’s exhausting.” – Mr. Aiden Dine

  • “Education is critical, so critical. Can you believe the stat Kevin just shared that only 10% of people with prediabetes know it? Can you imagine if you walked into a school and the principal told you that only 10% of students were being educated? It would be ridiculous.” – Mr. Mike Golic, sports commentator and former professional football player

  • “Multiple members of my family have had diabetes. It’s had a huge impact on me, seeing the consequences firsthand. I remember going home, summer after summer, and watching the progression of the disease. I would see the ravaging impacts of the disease on my family. One summer, I would go down there and someone would have to be taken to dialysis. The next summer a toe would be gone. The next summer a foot gone. It was really, really horrific for me.” – Ms. Michelle Foster

  • “Even though I began to get acquainted with the disease at an early age, I never in a million years thought it would catch up to me. When I was diagnosed, I had a hard time accepting it. I would deny it. I would even go in the doctor’s office and they ask, ‘Do you have diabetes?’ and I would say ‘Well, according to ‘so and so’ I am.’ I denied it.” – Ms. Michelle Foster

  • “As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized how little time all of us have. And yet, it’s amazing what everyone with diabetes is able to do while still having a resilience and joy and passion about their lives. I want to give those people a voice… this is an incredibly supportive community and I want to be a part of it.” – Mr. Lorenzo Alexander

  • "I have three aunts diagnosed with diabetes. My grandmother, she was diagnosed with diabetes as well. And the one that really hit home was my mom. Anyone that knows me knows that my mom is my sword and shield...It's been a year since she's [my mother] gotten diagnosed. She's doing wonderfully, but to see the struggles in the things she's going through. It hits home. It hurts. I want my mom to be alive as long as possible. So this past year, after she found out, I wanted to be able to do something to start helping." – Mr. Dont’a Hightower, professional football player


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About the authors

Cheryl Alkon is a seasoned writer and the author of the book Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby . The book has been called “Hands down, the... Read the full bio »