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Smocks and Jocks event celebrates the fine art of Super Bowl weekend

The NFLPA’s annual art auction raises money for former players

Players and fans of the National Football League are making their way to Houston for Sunday’s big Super Bowl LI showdown between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. But on Saturday, another league-related event will shine a light on a different side of the NFL and its players.

Members of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) will host their 12th annual Smocks and Jocks art auction. Proceeds from the event will go to the Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust, which provides financial assistance and other transition services to former players in the NFL.

The NFLPA holds a number of player-focused events during Super Bowl weekend, and the art auction and brunch have become one of its premier fundraising opportunities, according to Andre Collins, director of retired players for the NFLPA and former Washington linebacker. “Our first auction was in Detroit, and we put out a call to former and current players who were artists, and we got an overwhelming response,” said Collins, who has donated several of his own paintings to the auctions. They have helped raise nearly $500,000 since the first auction in 2006. “We wanted to show the world a different side of the professional football player. It’s become very exciting to see what they’re going to come up with each year.”

People check out artwork at the 2016 Smocks and Jocks event.

People check out artwork at the 2016 Smocks and Jocks event.

Kevin Koski/NFLPA

The event has auctioned paintings, sculpture, and pottery from several former players who have successfully transitioned from athletes to professional and semi-pro artists in their retirement. Collins said the auction committee hopes to raise $50,000 from the sale of the 10-15 pieces that will be on display during Saturday’s brunch at Caracol Restaurant in Houston.

Many NFL players have gained acclaim for their off-the-field artistic endeavors and have been eager to participate in the program. Chris Cooley has donated pieces of his homespun pottery, and paintings have been submitted by Navy Lt. Eric Kettani, Dhani Jones, Vernon Davis, Steve Christie, Matt Blair, and Carl Eller. Garo Yepremian (Miami Dolphins) contributed for many years before his death in 2015, and his family has donated another piece for this year’s auction.

The NFLPA also hosts a community event during Super Bowl weekend. This year’s event will be hosted by former Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young, who will sponsor a two-hour art class with students at Houston’s Madison High School, Young’s alma mater. Student artists will paint with former NFL players Ricardo McDonald (Cincinnati Bengals), Michael Holmes (San Francisco 49ers), Michael Hicks (Chicago Bears), Max Lane (New England Patriots), Darryl Gaines (Kansas City Chiefs), Chris Calloway (New York Giants), Stan Petry (Kansas City Chiefs), Perry Carter (Oakland Raiders) and Ryan Yarborough (New York Jets), among others.

“Kids in impoverished areas tend to paint pictures that tell their stories and explain what their lives are like,” said Young, who talks openly with kids about his NFL career and the drama surrounding his financial troubles. He’s currently a development officer in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas-Austin. “Sometimes you can see their pain in their pictures — or what they’re going through in their everyday lives. Art is one of the things that lets them express themselves a lot, which is pretty cool. It’s a blessing that the NFLPA wanted to hold this event at my old high school. I try to stop whenever I’m in town, go to the football games and be visible so that the kids can talk to someone who is from that area.”

People check out artwork at the 2016 Smocks and Jocks event.

People check out artwork at the 2016 Smocks and Jocks event.

Kevin Koski/NFLPA

“Whenever I talk to kids, I don’t sugarcoat anything,” Young said. “I tell them the good and the bad. I’ve seen it all and been through it all and I can say that I’m a fighter. The kids know that I’ve come through storms and I’m still doing successful things.”

Jill Hudson is the senior style writer for the Undefeated. She is an evolved nerd, a caffeinated shoe fanatic, and a maker of long lists and perfect martinis.