Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Former NFL QB Carson Palmer gifts $300K on Giving Tuesday to 'Fill the Stadium'

It’s been three years since Carson Palmer stepped into a new “career” after playing in the NFL for 15 seasons. And he says he’s not as good at his new job — being a dad to four young kids, three of whom are trying to navigate remote learning at home.

“Retirement? What’s that?” the three-time Pro Bowler joked on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in an episode released Monday. “… It’s from one career into the next one, and I was much better at football than I am at being a Zoom Dad.”

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Drafted No. 1 overall in the 2003 NFL Draft out of USC, Palmer played eight seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals before getting traded to the Raiders in 2011. He spent two seasons in Oakland before another trade sent him to the Arizona Cardinals for five final seasons.

Soon after turning 38 years old, Palmer knew it was time to retire, which he did in January 2018. One of the driving factors was a desire to spend more time with his family. He says that as he grew older, he essentially had a job (treatment/therapy) on top of a job (football) just to stay healthy for Sundays.

Now, he helps around the family’s house in Idaho with his wife, Shaelyn. And in 2020, that’s meant helping the three older kids (twins Fletch and Elle, 11; daughter Bries, 8) with remote learning, while their youngest son Carter, 4, runs around trying to annoy his siblings.

But Palmer loves being a father. And he says he and Shaelyn have always had a soft spot for children, especially those who aren’t as fortunate as their kids, or as supported as Carson and Shaelyn were when they were growing up. Throughout his entire NFL career, the Palmers often lended aid and support to organizations like the Boys and Girls Club or Children’s Hospitals.

Lately, they’ve been working with Compassion International, a Christ-centered, church-based ministry dedicated to releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. And for Giving Tuesday, the Palmers pledged to make a challenge gift of $300,000 to Compassion for its Fill the Stadium initiative.

Palmer’s motivation was thinking about all the kids who need food and essential care.

“When you think about all the children, 70,000 kids, that Compassion wasn’t able to reach this year because of COVID, it breaks my heart,” Palmer said.

“Fill the Stadium” seeks to provide essential food, medical care and support for children and their families during this pandemic. The goal is to reach 70,000 children — which would fill an average-size NFL stadium — who were left without sponsorship funding when more than 1,200 child sponsorship events had to be canceled due to the pandemic.

Palmer said he first heard about the initiative through Steve Stenstrom, a former NFL quarterback who is now the president of Pro Athletes Outreach. Palmer had wanted to take his kids on a mission trip and asked Stenstrom for advice. Stenstrom recommended a trip with Compassion, so the Palmers began making plans.

But then COVID hit and the plans had to be postponed. Soon thereafter, Stenstrom began working with Compassion on the idea of finding funding for children who are waiting to be sponsored, and he let Palmer know how he could help. In addition to donating financially, the Palmers have committed to being part of the Fill the Stadium “lead team” comprised of numerous pro athletes across numerous sports.

Each “seat” is $500, which would provide food, care and support for one child. The $500 is an estimate of what fans might spend normally on a professional sporting event this year, but can’t because of the pandemic. Thus far, the campaign has filled nearly 16,500 seats.

“That $500 that you would spend going to the game can sponsor a child for a year, and you can fill this stadium up,” Palmer said on the podcast. “… [It can] pay for a child’s food, shelter, clothing, pay for ministry for that child so that child can find out who God is and have a relationship with Christ.”

The Christ-centered aspect of Compassion is why Palmer calls it a “trusted” organization.

“It’s also exposing these kids to the Bible and who Jesus is and how Jesus can help,” Palmer said on the podcast. “So that’s really where it all stemmed from — my wife and I growing up in a two-parent home and realizing how fortunate and blessed we were growing up and how many kids aren’t as fortunate as we were growing up. And just wanting to do something for those kids who didn’t have the support that my wife and I had.”

Palmer said he grew up in a Christian home, but it was in high school that he began to realize he needed God in his life.

“I had grown up in the Church and been around it, but I didn’t really realize the importance of a relationship with Christ,” he said.

As he excelled on the football field and went off to college at USC, one of the most renowned college football programs in the country, Palmer began attending Bible studies and Christian fellowship groups.

Then, when he entered the NFL, he didn’t play at all his rookie season as he learned from the starting quarterback, Jon Kitna. Kitna not only mentored Palmer in football, but also in his walk with Christ.

“I was just around him and realized, ‘Man, I want what that guy’s got. That guy’s on fire for God. That guy has Jesus in his heart. Everybody knows it and I want that,'” Palmer said.

Palmer eventually transitioned into a mentor’s role himself, and he would often talk with teammates about faith. He describes himself as more mellow than Kitna, as everyone has their own unique personality.

Palmer’s actions, such as supporting Compassion’s Fill the Stadium initiative, speak loudly.

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