It was chance that brought Kristin's Fund to Jakob Johnson's attention. He went to his financial advisor, Joe Palumbo, about opening an additional savings account, but somewhere along the line, the conversation took a deeper turn.
Johnson told Palumbo how he was hoping to represent an organization working with victims of domestic violence, as well as prevention. Then, Palumbo told Johnson about his sister, Kristin Palumbo Longo.
Kristin is remembered by friends and family as a warm, friendly, and kind person. She had a zest for life that was contagious. As a mother of four, she shined.
In 2009, however, Kristin was killed in an act of domestic violence.
After losing Kristin, her family started Kristin's Fund to help combat domestic violence through education and awareness.
Johnson never expected Palumbo to have a story of his own relating to domestic violence, which is part of the reason why Johnson chose this issue for My Cause My Cleats. No one would probably suspect Johnson has his own story, either.
His parents, he said, had an up and down relationship. One day when Johnson was back from college, things escalated, and his father was arrested.
"I have three little sisters and I worry every day how that whole experience is going to affect them for the rest of their life," Johnson said. "I told myself anything I can do to raise awareness and help with this subject, that should be part of what I stand for. Especially If you have been a witness or a victim, then you don't want anybody else going through that."
Together, he and Palumbo hatched the idea that Johnson could represent Kristin's Fund for My Cause My Cleats, an NFL initiative that allows players, coaches and staff to represent organizations that matter the most to them through customized cleats. After Week 13, all the cleats will be available to buy through NFL Auction with all proceeds going to the respective non-profits.
While Johnson said most of his teammates chose causes that shape their respective communities, as a German native, he doesn't have a "home base" in America. He set out to choose something that mattered to him.
"I spent some time soul searching and figuring out which cause I really want to support. I had a lot of ideas, but at the end of the day, if I was just being honest with myself the thing that I was going to really put my weight behind is domestic violence prevention because that was something that came up in my life," Johnson said. "If I can use my platform to do something about that or just raise awareness then that would just be being true to myself."
With a platform in the NFL, Johnson can talk about the ways domestic violence impacts families because, oftentimes, those who have gone through physical, emotional, mental, or economic abuse feel they are alone.
"Nobody talks about it. It's an uncomfortable subject," Johnson said. "If you were a victim, you don't want to usually put that out there because it might make your family look bad, but I think the more we can share those stories and just be honest, the less of a stigma will be attached to it and the more help those families might be able to get."
Especially over the last two years with COVID lockdowns in place, those living with abusers may have had no place to go even if they had worked out a plan to leave. According to a UC Davis study, the isolation and financial strain many faced during lockdowns contributed to an increase of domestic violence.
While Johnson hopes that people who see his cleats might take time to learn about domestic violence prevention and warning signs, he ultimately hopes that those who have gone through or witnessed this kind of abuse see that they are not alone.
"I hope it opens people's eyes. You're not going through this alone. You're not the only one going through this," he said. "There are a lot of people in a lot of places that were affected by this, like Joe, like myself … maybe a lot of people watching us on Monday night. You're not alone. There's a way forward. There are resources for you out there."
You can check out Johnson's, as well as the rest of the participating Patriots, cleats in the gallery below.
For the sixth straight season, the New England Patriots are participating in the NFL's 'My Cause My Cleats' campaign, which gives both players and coaches the opportunity to wear cleats that are designed to promote a cause important to them. Here's a look at the Patriots' custom cleats.