When storytelling wins: Spotlighting untold dimensions of NFL players

How Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter Casey Phillips connected two players who have kids with Down Syndrome to tell their story and raise awareness.

Casey Phillips has been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Team Reporter for nine seasons serving as host of multiple television and radio shows, event emcee, in-stadium host, and content creator for the team’s social media accounts.

There’s nothing more adorable than professional football players bringing their children onto the field after a grueling training camp practice. They go from being sweaty gladiators to just “Daddy!”

As the person tasked with telling our players’ stories, this is my chance to see who and what matters to them and their “why” of putting their bodies through the equivalent of a car wreck each game.

I already knew one of our players, Deven Thompkins, had a son with Down Syndrome. One practice I saw another player, Dee Delaney, with his daughter and learned she too had Down Syndrome. I approached each of them about doing an interview with me and their children to discuss how unique it is to have a teammate to share this experience with. I found out they didn’t even know about each other’s kids.

This may sound surprising, but a locker room is a lot like a company with different departments that don’t always intersect. Since these two play on opposite sides of the ball, they aren’t often in meeting rooms or drills together.

By helping them learn about each other’s children, Delaney was able to tell Thompkins about a non-profit called GiGi’s Playhouse that provides free educational, therapeutic-based, and career development programs for individuals with Down syndrome, their families, and the community. Both players chose to support GiGi’s Playhouse for the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats initiative, where players are allowed to custom paint their cleats for one game a year to support a cause close to their hearts.

After our story aired, Thompkins and Delaney were presented the Generation G award at the GiGi’s Playhouse I Have a Voice Gala, which recognizes individuals who use their platform to change the way the world views Down Syndrome.

This experience epitomized what storytelling can and should do for our companies, clients, and employees. The Buccaneers received positive media coverage and fan reactions during a time when the on-field product was struggling. The piece was sponsored since it was part of the league-wide community initiative. Fans were given a behind-the-scenes look into our players lives full of inspiration and vulnerability counter to the faceless, helmet-clad look of gameday. And our players, who are essentially Buccaneers employees, were given a chance to connect with each other on a deeper level and use their platform to make a difference.

I am not naïve to the fact that it is far easier to find stories consumers will want to engage with when the NFL is the subject matter. But no matter the platform, number of views or likes, the storytelling fundamentals are the same:

• Start by using your organizational knowledge and access to notice anything and everything, even if it seems basic to you as an expert in the field.
• Be curious and not complacent (my slight adjustment to the Ted Lasso quote). Over my nine seasons here, I’ve watched approximately 150 training camp practices, but you never know which one might tip you off to a great story.
• Ask yourself how the information you find can be used to improve public perception, empower employees, promote a partner, increase visibility to a product, or give back to the community.

A story told well will not only hit KPIs, but also create the harder to measure, but ultimately longer-lasting affinity to your brand, product, or company.

Ultimately, stories promoting aspects of your employees that often go unseen can also inspire the whole team to create stronger work and deepen their loyalty when they feel honored and seen.


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