Photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When Pittsburgh Steelers punter Pressley Harvin III stepped onto the field on Sunday, Dec. 4, he was sporting a new pair of cleats that meant more than just a new look. The gold and black cleats were designed to honor Pressley's father, Pressley Harvin Jr., who passed away on Christmas Day 2021.
"I just told myself I want to make today special," said Pressley, "and the cleats definitely did come in handy for sure because I know I definitely felt [my dad] with me."
Across one cleat was Pressley Jr.'s name, along with three black lines to acknowledge all grandfather, father and son Pressleys. Across the other shoe was the American Kidney Fund's (AKF) logo, Pressley's chosen charity for the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign.
Through this campaign (now in its seventh year), NFL players were given the chance to raise awareness of a cause they care about by creating custom cleats with their charity's logo to wear during their week 13 and/or 14 games. After the games, the cleats are then auctioned off with 100% of the proceeds going to the player's selected charity. Pressley chose AKF as another way to honor his father, highlighting his lifelong battle with kidney disease.
Pressley Jr. was diagnosed with kidney failure when he was 16 years old, after complications from a case of strep throat permanently damaged his kidneys. From that time on, he received dialysis treatments three times a week until he was able to receive a kidney transplant. Pressley Jr. was fortunate enough to receive two transplants during his lifetime and was hoping to receive a third. However, a prostate cancer diagnosis prevented him from remaining on the waitlist and ultimately led to his passing.
While many people may not be aware the impact of kidney disease, Pressley grew up with it.
"It altered the way that we grew up a little bit," said Pressley. "But I mean, every single day in my life, it was our normal way of life for us … My mom started doing dialysis at home for a long time for my dad instead of him going to the center. And yeah, every single day, three times a week when I was back in high school, I walked through the house into my parents' room, my dad would be sitting there in the chair doing home dialysis and just having good talks."
His cleats also displayed an image of a heart inside a kidney, a reflection of the literal connection between heart and kidney disease as well as a metaphor for how his family kept perspective on his father's kidney disease.
"We had one less kidney in the in the house the whole time, but we also knew that we had one big heart in that void of the kidney that my dad didn't have," said Pressley. "And that was just the one thing that just kept my family going was just putting your heart over your kidneys."
Despite the ups and downs of living with kidney failure, Pressley said that his father kept "fighting the fight" every single day and "found small ways of trying to give back." When the players were asked to select a charity to support through the My Cause My Cleats campaign, Pressley wanted to continue his dad's efforts to spread awareness of kidney disease and selected AKF.
"My dad isn't here today, but I didn't want his fight of him trying to help others go to waste or cease when he's not here," explained Pressley. "And I just wanted to give people a little sense of awareness to the cause in general, because it's one of those sicknesses that if it's not in your family or it doesn't pertain just to you individually or you're not affected by it, some people don't really know the severity of it. So just enlightening people, educating them and telling the ones that are sick, the caregivers that give care like my mom did for my dad… I wanted to let their voice be heard… Using my voice and using my platform can go a lot longer ways than just putting it on a cleat in a football game."
Pressley said he also hoped to raise awareness about the long journey people can have with kidney disease; that it is not something that "can be changed overnight." It can take years to find a kidney transplant and kidney disease can also affect your health in other ways – like causing anemia, gout or hyperkalemia (high potassium). Pressley hoped that these long waits are something that can be changed some day, but in the meantime wanted people with kidney disease or kidney failure know they are not alone.
"I just wanted to tell people to just keep fighting, keep having the faith in God," said Pressley. "Just to keep trying to fight. And like coach T says all the time, just you got to smile in the face of adversity sometimes and just keep a smile on your face and just keep fighting."