GREEN BAY – For as long as he can remember, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has wanted to use his platform as a football player to make a difference in the world.
He just needed a cause – and the proper credentials.
“I always knew I wanted to give back but, first, I had to make a name for myself in the NFL,” Clinton-Dix said. “I can’t just come in the league and just start a foundation if no one knows who the hell I am. I wanted to make sure that I had a name for myself.”
Coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance, the Packers’ All-Pro safety finally made his childhood vision a reality this year with the creation of Ha Ha’s HERO Foundation.
An acronym for “Hope, Education, Resources and Opportunity,” HERO is a nonprofit that strives to provide economically challenged students with tools and resources to avoid high-risk behavior.
The foundation held its first event – Ha Ha’s HERO Celebrity Night – at Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan two weeks ago. The event, with more than 170 guests, raised $130,000 through silent and live auctions with several Packers players, including Davante Adams, Lance Kendricks, Davon House, Damarious Randall and Kevin King.
“As a coach, it’s a neat progression to watch and see these guys come in as young pups and develop into great people,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “It just makes you proud because you not only want to see those guys grow as football players, but as human beings, contributing and giving back. They take a lot of pride with it and it’s a serious matter for him.”
Proceeds from the event will provide books and technology tools to Title I schools aimed at assisting children from low-income families.
For his efforts, Clinton-Dix was honored with the NFLPA Community MVP award for Week 5, making him eligible for this year’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award – the players’ union’s highest community honor.
“The event went well and raised a lot of money for the kids here in Wisconsin,” Clinton-Dix said. “They’re actually going to donate $15,000 to my charity. That was a big deal and I really appreciate the NFLPA for nominating me for that award. Actually, one of the biggest awards I’ve ever received in my life, being it was my event.”
Clinton-Dix, now in his fourth NFL season, has continued to push himself outside of his comfort zone every year since the Packers drafted him in the first round out of Alabama in 2014.
Last spring, Clinton-Dix went back to school in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to work towards his degree in criminal justice. Over the summer, he performed an internship with the Brown County Courthouse under Judge Donald Zuidmulder.
And now even with the season underway, Clinton-Dix has continued his efforts with the foundation. While getting up in front of a room full of people and speaking isn’t really Clinton-Dix’s cup of tea, the cause means that much to him.
“I actually teared up a little bit, man,” Clinton-Dix said. “Just being able to speak in front of 200 people and they’re all here to hear you and what you stand for and your cause and what you want to do in this world and in this community. It was unreal.
“It was probably the most challenging thing I ever had to do in my life was get up and speak in front of people. Once I spoke from the heart, it really became the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
As with his charitable efforts, Clinton-Dix has had to be more vocal on the field this season, as well. After Morgan Burnett exited two weeks ago against Dallas with a hamstring injury, the Packers asked Clinton-Dix to put on the communication headset.
It was a big challenge, but one the Pro Bowl safety was up for. Clinton-Dix then faced another stiff test last Sunday in Minnesota when he needed to relay calls from coordinator Dom Capers inside one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL.
Clinton-Dix was ready, even making sure to get a little extra running in to prepare his body for the extra sprints from his post at free safety to communicate the plays at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s kind of like being the commander. I’m excited about it,” Clinton-Dix said. “This last week, I prepared for it. I love it, man, to really have it in my hand, to be the guy, the signal-caller to make the plays, it’s actually fun. I’m enjoying it.”
The work doesn’t get any easier for Clinton-Dix and the Packers with quarterback Aaron Rodgers out indefinitely due to a broken right collarbone he sustained after getting driven into the turf on a hit from Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.
Surviving Rodgers’ absence will take a group effort with each phase doing its job. On defense, Clinton-Dix believes it starts with shoring up tackling and limiting mental errors.
The competitor in Clinton-Dix is excited for the challenge. Like most on the team, he’s rallying around backup QB Brett Hundley and motivated to show the Packers can still be a playoff and Super Bowl contender even without their MVP quarterback.
As his role grows on the field, Clinton-Dix is relishing the responsibility that comes off it, too. Football is a game, but the impact one can make beyond the field is what Clinton-Dix relishes the most.
“We’re all going to die one day,” Clinton-Dix said. “I don’t give a damn how much money you got. The truck’s not backing up to the graveyard with you. With me, it’s all about giving back and trying to use my fan base, my stage to give back and enlighten what’s going on in this world and just be a part of it.
“If I can change one kid’s life in this world, my job is done here.”