Saquon Barkley to wear cleats supporting his niece with rare illness

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Saquon Barkley‘s cause is close to his heart. The New York Giants rookie running back will wear cleats Sunday against the Chicago Bears that feature a picture of his niece, Amirah, and himself. It’s an opportunity to inform and educate about 22q, a rare genetic disease that Amirah was diagnosed with several years ago.

It’s all part of the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative that allows players to wear customized cleats in support of a cause or movement they support. Barkley went with something he was passionate about.

“It’s something cool that the NFL allowed us to do,” he said.

It’s a leaguewide initiative. Other causes supported by Giants players this week will include Tackle Kids Cancer (quarterback Eli Manning), Compassion (left tackle Nate Solder), Autism Awareness (linebacker Alec Ogletree), the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (linebacker B.J. Goodson) and Dreambuilders (safety Michael Thomas).

22q, sometimes referred to as DiGeorge or Deletion syndrome, is a deficiency to a part of chromosome 22 that often goes undetected. Amirah wasn’t diagnosed until she was 5.

It’s not a mainstream disease. Barkley said he spoke with a doctor recently to learn more about 22q.

Barkley looks at the cleats as an opportunity to inform and educate others. He also intends to donate an undisclosed amount of his own money to the cause.

“I’m just happy I’m able to bring awareness, raise more awareness to it, and it’s important to show love to my niece,” he said.

Barkley had been wanting to do something in this regard for his now 8-year-old niece for several years.

“I wanted to do this from college,” he said. “I was trying to find a way to do it in college, but you don’t kind of have the same resources in college that you have in the NFL. And the NFL gives you this week, for example.”

It will be extra special for Barkley, a front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, to wear the cleats in support of his niece three days before her birthday. Barkley is looking to score more than one touchdown for the third straight game.

Amirah is the daughter of Barkley’s older brother, Rashard Johnson. Medical problems associated with 22q include heart defects, poor immune system function, a cleft palate, complications related to low levels of calcium in the blood and delayed development with behavioral and emotional problems, according to mayoclinic.org.

But Barkley said his niece is doing fine.

“It’s sad, but if you got to meet my niece, you wouldn’t even be able to tell,” he said. “She’s high spirits, happy, loving, and I’m just happy I can be able to be a role model and try to use my platform to raise more awareness.”

Sunday it will be on full display.

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