OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Nine Oakland Raiders spent Monday hanging out young patients and families at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland. They did crafts and laughed, snapped photos and made days.
Picture two-time pro bowler Khalil Mack huddled around a table measuring liquid for fellow crafters with a cup that seemed to vanish in his mitts. It's quite the sight. But let's recognize what they were doing. Visiting hospitals is tough. They're are often extremely uncomfortable and trigger a wide range of emotional responses. All of the above is amplified when the patients are children.
Fans are accustomed to the entertainment factor associated with seeing NFL players aggressively crash into each other. The sport is violent. So seeing these figures interact with an unscripted, gentle nature is different. It's pleasant. Majority of the children they visited are fighting for their life daily, so an opportunity to bring in some joy and "boost their day along" is one Mack wouldn't miss.
"It means everything, man," Mack said. "To be able to come out here - see and interact with the kids - that's more important than wins and losses."
The children joined Mack and fellow linebacker Bruce Irvin as they gathered around a table while playing with silver and black glitter. Individually, they cultivated a vinegar, glitter and baking soda concoction. And as Irvin's chuckles became louder, so grew the children's smiles. Irvin's better at football than he is crafting.
"I think I might have messed up," said Irvin, giggling. "Mind looks like a hard Laffy Taffy."
And as for specific attendees, it was a unit that showed up. The nine raiders included: DL Denico Autry, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DT Justin Ellis, DT Treyvon Hester, LB Bruce Irvin, DT Darius Latham, DE Khalil Mack, DT Eddie Vanderdoes and DE Jihad Ward. All defensive players.
"It was a no-brainer. It just shows the support we give throughout the D-line (defensive line)," Mack said. "If one of us goes, all of us go."
And the visit came after a redeye flight home from a tough loss to the Redskins in Washington. But it did not deter. The bunch still showed up. And to areas of the hospital that can be difficult to visit, including the Immuno-compromised unit (ICU).
"Obviously we got back late, but we made a commitment to ourselves and to these kids that we were going to be there for them," Irvin said. "It's a great feeling to see these kids smile."
From sliding a Raiders wristband on an infant, to playing Uno with staff and young patients, the interactions were spread across varying ages and job titles. The athlete platform is dynamic and the reach is one the Raiders acknowledge through their community work.
"God didn't put me in this position to bless not only me, but to bless other people, too," Irvin said.