Wide receiver Amari Cooper snagged a lofty pass and hurtled down the field on game day, unheeding of the muscled masses that threatened to take him down at any second. The next day, he and his fellow Oakland Raiders rookies could be found strolling through the halls of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, being chased by much less brawny pursuers.
September is National Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, and CHO’s Child Life Services group is working extra hard to make the hospital seem less scary through art therapy, playrooms, and events including a visit from some sports icons. For the Raiders players, it is a way to give back to the community.
“This is who we are, this is what we do, both on the field and off the field—in the community,” says Mike Taylor, spokesperson for the team. Mondays are the players’ only day off. But for many of them, this is a chance to engage with the community that rallies behind them each week.
“Who’s cooler, Batman or the Raiders?” a nurse asks a young patient. “Batman!” the patient promptly responds.
In the playroom, Cooper squeezes into a tiny, child-sized chair and jumps right into a lively game of Jenga with seven-year-old Melania Bevu and her two siblings, Jim and Ruth. Their parents, Adi and Jim, watch in awe from a corner.
“We’re going to be here for a few weeks because she has to get antibiotics. It’s pretty hard on us because this is our first time being in a big hospital like this, but we’re so fortunate to be here at one of the best,” says their mom, Adi. “[Melania’s] been through a lot, and this is the highlight of her visit.”
Down the hall, safety Keenan Lambert is making a bedside visit to five-year-old Angelina Garavay. Angelina is shy, and probably overwhelmed by the sudden flurry of activity, but Lambert looks on patiently from behind his pale yellow surgical mask.
While Angelina seems immune to the celebrity’s presence, curious nurses, families, and passersby peer in, trying to get a glimpse of #32. Angelina’s mom, Gabby, explains that she brought her daughter in because she was having some difficulty breathing. She is touched to see the team out today. “Oh, I love the Raiders,” she says. “I watch them every Sunday.”
Linebacker Neiron Ball is humbled to be here. He is no stranger to hospital rooms, having spent time as an inpatient himself due to a past medical condition. “I can really relate,” he says. “They’re being strong individuals, being here and getting through this situation.”
He is thrilled to be able to use his status to have a positive impact, he adds: “It’s great. It’s great to be in a position to be an inspiration to others.”
Hospital visits are full of painful procedures, unpleasant needle sticks, bland food, and scary diagnoses. But for the children at Children’s Hospital Oakland, they are sometimes also full of some of their favorite athletes. “When they look back on it,” says Sara Devaney, manager of Child Life Services, “this is what people remember.”