Since being drafted by the Bears in last year's draft, linebacker J.T. Thomas hasn't had much of an impact on the field. His rookie season was ended prematurely when he was put on injured reserve due to a back injury in September, getting the old "redshirt year" that's been commonplace for rookies under Lovie Smith. However, Thomas has proven in his first-year of professional football you can still make an impact in people's lives without stepping onto the field. Jump ahead for some heart-warming goodness that would make the Grinch weepy.
Back in May, Thomas made headlines when he escorted a high school student, Joslyn Levell, suffering from spina bifida to her school's prom. While waiting at his brother's bus stop, the girl mentioned to JT that she was a huge Bears' fan and was planning on attending the school's prom, but did not have a date yet. After checking with school officials, JT offered to escort Joselyn to the dance and she accepted, although Thomas was a bit nervous that "by the time [he] reached out she would have a date and turn [him] down."
Recently, Thomas befriended Anthony Grandberry, a fourteen-year-old he met during the Bears' annual holiday youth party in December, who has epilepsy. Thomas offered to visit Anthony and his mother during Christmas, bringing along gifts and promising to come back and visit. Instead of the occasional phone call or text, Thomas surprised his young friend with a trip to Indianapolis, where Anthony and JT get to watch this year's Super Bowl game. Sean Jenson has an excellent article up with additional details.
Before picking up Anthony for the Super Bowl, Thomas will embark today on a road trip from his home in Florida to Chicago, where he'll stop off at epilepsy centers in Orlando, Atlanta, and Nashville, among others. You can follow the road trip at JT's twitter page here or check out photos here (including one of him catching a fish so small you'd need ten of them to make a fishstick). Currently, JT is in the process of establishing a foundation in part inspired by his experiences with Joslyn and Anthony, and especially his younger brother Jared, who has autism.
We, the fans, never get to fully understand the players we root for; we appreciate the sacrifice to the bodies in the name of sport and cheer them on in part because of the orange "C" on the side of their helmet. Its rare to get better understanding of these guys and what kind of people they are off the field. But, keep in mind there are players that do more than step on the field and impact a game; some guys step out of the norm and impact people's lives.