Meet the Waterboys

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Chris Long, Defensive End / New England Patriots - The Players' Tribune

As the title of this article suggests, we’re going to do things a little differently here. I want to talk to you about clean water, and why it can change people’s lives in East Africa, especially the lives of children. But since this is the Internet, I know you all have a short attention span.

So let’s make a deal. I’ll tell you why I started my Waterboys initiative, and why I want you to help us bring clean water to the incredible people of East Africa, and in return I’ll also make fun of my football buddies, starting with my brother Kyle.

He’ll be alright. He’s a big boy. Oh, and that monster extension he just signed should have him feeling pretty good.

Kyle Long
I will gladly take the heat for a good cause. I’m ready.

Chris Long
Let’s talk about Kyle’s off-season routine. Whenever I FaceTime him after like 8 a.m., he’s always in his dark little gaming cave with five television screens glowing simultaneously, just sitting there shirtless and hairy, surrounded by all his crazy gizmos. He’s wearing his special headphones, clicking away with his game face on. He looks like a hacker living in his mom’s basement, not a Pro Bowl NFL guard.

“I’m busy right now, dude.”

You’d honestly think I was calling him during an actual NFL game, that’s how intense he is in his gaming chamber.

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Kyle Long
I am not shirtless. The rest is accurate. And you can make fun of me all you want, but two things:  1) I have many good friends in the gaming community—

Chris Long
Kyle is friends with “The LeBron James of Counterstrike in Brazil.”

Kyle Long
—Let me finish. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on bottle service and all the stuff you see on Ballers, I’d rather hang out with my friends and have fun. And 2) How much money did we raise for Waterboys through Twitch?

Chris Long
First of all, for the people reading this who don’t know what we’re talking about — Twitch is a website that broadcasts live-streams of people playing video games.

Second, you and your gaming friends raised a ton of money. I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. They’ve killed it.

Kyle is friends with “The LeBron James of Counterstrike in Brazil.”

Kyle Long
At the start of the off-season I tweeted that all the proceeds from my Twitch channel would go to Waterboys. I logged on and started playing Call of Duty, and the next thing I know there were thousands of people watching.

I didn’t even make a big thing out of it. I just said to everybody watching, “Hey, if you’re enjoying this, you can donate money to help build clean-water wells in East Africa by subscribing to my channel.”

Chris Long
By the end of the spring, the Twitch community and Bears fans had donated more than $45,000, and Kyle had funded his first well. That will mean clean water for more than 3,000 people.

Kyle Long
It’s kind of incredible just how much we take clean water for granted. Just today, I had two IVs after practice, drank eight bottles of water, took two showers, and washed my hands multiple times. There are millions of people out there who can’t even drink a glass of water without it making them sick. Pretty soon, we’ll have our own Twitch well in Tanzania. That’s pretty cool.

Chris Long
With Waterboys, we’re trying to get creative to raise awareness in interesting ways. One of those ways is definitely engaging younger people, especially the gaming community. And also the punting community. I happen to know a pretty solid punter. Johnny?

Kyle Long
#JohnnyKickball.

Chris Long
#PuntersArePeopleToo.

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Johnny Hekker
We are people. We are.

Kyle Long
I just want to point out that I got crushed for being a gamer, but I know from Twitter that Johnny is a pretty big Pokémon hunter.

Chris Long
Johnny, how many Pokémon have you caught on Pokémon Go?

Johnny Hekker
My hunting has dwindled since the start of the season, but I can tell you the precise amount right now, actually. Let me check my phone.…

Hold on.…

I’ve captured 892 Pokémon. My rarest is a Snorlax.

Chris Long
Obviously we’ve got some real geniuses from around the league signed on. I actually approached Johnny about joining the Waterboys because he’s got such a rabid following on Punter Twitter that I figured he could get anything to go viral.

Johnny Hekker
If you think about it, I’m the perfect person for this because I literally am a waterboy during practice. I always feel so bad when we’re doing team punt-coverage drills — I kick it like 50 yards downfield and the guys have to run down to tag the returner and then run all the way back to the huddle. As soon as I punt the ball, my job is pretty much over. So when the guys come back to the huddle huffing and puffing after three punts in a row, I make sure I have the water bottle ready for them. I gotta take care of my guys.

Chris Long
What if you have to tackle somebody?

Johnny Hekker
Well, I have the gait of a young giraffe. If I have to lay the wood, we’re in trouble.

Chris Long
There was that one time when you tackled Darren Sproles.

Johnny Hekker
Nah, he just kind of slipped and fell while I was stringing him out to the sideline. When I touched him down, I did feel pretty cool, though.

Chris Long
Speaking of outstanding tacklers, we also have James Laurinaitis here. I won’t make fun of James. He’s a legitimately great dude. There was a prank I allegedly played on him that I should allegedly still feel bad about. I mean, I didn’t play the prank, but you could imagine that I’d feel bad if I did.

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James Laurinaitis
It involved crickets. A thousand crickets. I don’t even want to get into it.

Chris Long
Don’t know what you’re talking about. Anybody else got something?

Johnny Hekker
I’ll just leave this here.

Chris Long
I reached out to James to become a Waterboy because I knew he had been on a clean-water mission to El Salvador, and the trip made a really big impact on him. James and I were close when I was in St. Louis, even though we could never settle the argument of whose dad would win in a real life Mortal Kombat situation. (His dad is the infamous Road Warrior Animal of the WWF.)

James Laurinaitis
The Animal vs. Howie Long? I’m taking my dad, because he’d play dirty with the steel chairs. Maybe he’d grab one of those old-school trash cans that were always under the ring for some reason. In any nonfootball setting, my dad gets the pinfall.

Chris Long
Fair enough. When did you first go to El Salvador?

James Laurinaitis
I went in 2012 with Living Water International, and it was an eye-opening experience. I know that term can be overused, but when we got down there the people in this village were living in really challenging conditions. Before we installed the well, the community was drinking water from the same source that another community upstream was bathing in. The water was brown and contaminated. But it was their only option.

I have a daughter, and the thought of her not having the basic human necessity of water is just unthinkable. I freak out when she has a few sniffles. I mean, if you’re a parent, it just breaks your heart.

Chris Long
Absolutely. Waterborne illness is such a huge problem in third world countries, and it affects children the most. The reality of life in many parts of East Africa is that women and girls have to walk miles just to collect water from sources that are riddled with disease. They’re dealing with illnesses that are largely nonexistent in the United States. People are perpetually sick, and often don’t know why. We don’t realize what a miracle it is to turn on our faucet and have clean water come out. It’s so easy to take that kind of infrastructure for granted.

Johnny Hekker
That’s the thing that’s lost on so many of us, right? We don’t think about the miles and miles of pipes that bring water to us. If you’re reading this and you can walk to your sink and have clean water come out, you’re so, so blessed. We don’t celebrate that in the developed world, but there are millions of people who don’t have that luxury.

We joke around about Kyle spending hours on Twitch and me wandering around my neighborhood capturing Pokémon, but the point is that we’re incredibly privileged to lead the lives we do in the developed world.

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Chris Long
Absolutely. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I completely took it for granted before. This whole idea for Waterboys started when I went to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in the winter of 2013. When I got to Tanzania, I didn’t have any life-changing plans to create a foundation or anything. Honestly, I just wanted to climb the mountain. I hadn’t traveled a ton growing up. I was aware of poverty as we know it in America, but poverty on a scale like I found there struck me.

We don’t realize what a miracle it is to turn on our faucet and have clean water come out.

James Laurinaitis
Right. Like, “Wow, this isn’t good. Somebody should do something.” Then you get distracted and move on to the next thing. When you really see it, though….

Chris Long
When you really see it, especially when you meet these wonderful, gracious people, who are just so unaffected by their situation, and so positive, you can’t shake this feeling. The feeling for me was that I had had this beautiful experience on Kilimanjaro, and somehow maybe I could do my part in improving the place that gave me this experience. But then the enormity of the problem starts to overwhelm you. When I was leaving, I thought, I want to come back and help, but how?

Kyle Long
Then you ran into Joe Buck.

Chris Long
Well, more specifically, I ran into the guy who was with Joe Buck. But yes, I ran into Joe Buck in a random bar in Tanzania on the last night.

I was celebrating the climb at the hotel bar when I heard the Joe Buck voice.

“Chris Long?”

I turn around.

“Joe Buck?!”

It turns out that Joe was in Tanzania building a well with Doug Pitt (Brad Pitt’s brother). Doug is the goodwill ambassador to Tanzania and does a ton of meaningful work in the country. So we all sat down over a beer (or six) and talked about everything they were doing.

When I got back to the States, I called up Doug and told him I wanted to get involved. In 2014, I saw the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge and how much awareness that brought about for ALS, and I thought, What if I could get the NFL behind clean water?

So I set out with the goal of recruiting a “waterboy” from every single NFL team to raise funds and build as many wells as possible.

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Johnny Hekker
When you approached me about the organization, one of the things that stuck out was just how relatively inexpensive it was to construct something that has such an immediate change in so many lives. A total of $45,000 for something permanent and lasting is not a tremendous amount of money.

James Laurinaitis
That was the biggest takeaway I had from visiting El Salvador, after the well was constructed there. All the kids in the village were running around playing soccer — just so, so happy. They didn’t have soccer boots. They were all wearing knockoff Crocs and playing in the mud, but their happiness was so infectious. Then one of the women told us, “Last year, half of these kids were sick from the water. They couldn’t play, they couldn’t go to school.”

It’s such a simple thing, but without clean water, these kids were robbed of a chance to do the things we took for granted as kids.

Chris Long
So far, we’ve funded 14 wells, with 11 of them already constructed and operational. Those 11 wells alone are estimated to impact the lives of 40,000 people. I know it might be hard for people reading this to really understand how that’s making a difference, but when you really see how bad things are in some of these communities — when you see a four-year-old kid drinking water from the same pond where animals defecate — you cannot help but be motivated to do something.

Kyle Long
I have to give Chris credit, despite all the crap he gives me, because he’s not just asking guys to get out their checkbooks once a year. He’s really thrown himself into this organization, and into figuring out ways to get people to make a lifelong investment into confronting a really important problem.

One of the things our parents taught us was that we were obligated to leave this earth a little better than the way we found it. If you’re reading this and you feel the same way, you can donate $6 to provide water access to one person, or $30 for an entire household.

Chris Long
Seriously, if you enjoyed reading us making fun of one another, and you have two extra minutes to spare, watch this short video about the opening of our first well in Tanzania, and see the difference we can make in this world.

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To learn more and get involved please visit waterboys.org. Join the team and help Waterboys tackle thirst.

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