In the current state of the world in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of philanthropy is as crucial as it has ever been. Former Bears guard Kyle Long knows this and has taken the steps necessary to aid those in need during the crisis.
Long is teaming up with his older brother, two-time Super Bowl champion Chris Long, to partner with Crown Royal as a part of their #GenerosityHour happy hours campaign, in which consumers 21 and older can use the hashtag to share their favorite cocktail and bring people together.
“For myself and my older brother, being able to help out in our communities in any way we can is important during these times,” Long told Windy City Gridiron. “And put the best foot forward as a community and as a country is going to be the thing that gets us in the right direction.”
Through the campaign, the Long brothers will be donating $15,000 to the USBG Bartender Emergency Assistance Fund, which helps out bartending in need with the closing of bars throughout the United States. Additionally, for every post using the hashtag #GenerosityHour, Crown Royal will donate $1 to the fund.
“Getting with Crown Royal and being able to raise money for bartenders in need right now who are out of work is something that my older brother and I are very excited about,” he explained. “It’s something that we are going to have a great time with. Tomorrow night, we’ll be doing an Instagram live, 6 o’clock [PM] Eastern; you don’t want to miss that. They will be raising up to $200,000 with the use of the hashtag #GenerosityHour, and you can use that all weekend, and can use that as many times as you’d like, and that will be a really great thing that Crown’s a part of.”
The outbreak of the coronavirus has seemingly placed much of the world on pause, with millions of Americans either working from home or, like many bartenders, finding themselves without a stream of income. Regardless of one’s personal, the virus has made an impact on everyone’s life to some extent, and Long has been doing his best to do his part.
“Like anyone else, the past few weeks have been a change of pace for me,” he elaborated. “But I’m doing my best and doing my part to flatten and dominate the curve. Staying home, following the rules, trying to be clean, showering a lot, washing my hands.”
The three-time Pro Bowler, who announced his retirement from football in January, had plenty of activities and ventures planned in the wake of his retirement, and while he shares some disappointment in not being able to achieve them right away, he understands the severity of the situation.
“I had so many cool things planned, I’ll be honest with you,” Long said. “I just finished up a [Ford] Raptor truck that I wanted to take out into the desert, doing some off-roading with it, potentially go down to Mexico and ride around with some buddies in the Baja area, but this thing, it’s a serious deal, so I’m going to follow the rules and make sure that, like I said, we’re putting our best foot forward.”
Long is coming off of a seven-year career in the NFL, having spent all of those seasons with the Bears, who drafted him with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Playing as a guard and making a living off of colliding with defensive linemen weighing over 300 pounds and pushing them out of the way, he has found an outlet for his desire for physicality through off-roading.
“When I decided to be done with football as a profession and I needed to start filling my time with something in that adrenaline meter that comes along with being a psychopath that plays football, I guess, I found myself in the desert, going fast in some UTVs. I ended up riding around in a trophy truck or two out there with some buddies. It’s been fun to get into it; it’s a lot of learning, and I’m looking forward to being able to get in there in my truck.”
In addition to his more physical leisure activity of off-roading, Long has continued to livestream his playing video games on Twitch, a pastime he took up while still with the Bears. His passion for video games has been apparent for those who keep up with the 2014 second-team All-Pro on social media, even going as far as becoming a part owner of an iRacing team, a simulated race-car driving experience that he has taken part in since 2016. Long views his involvement in the gaming community as a way to escape from his identity as a football star.
“I’ve been streaming on Twitch at twitch.tv/kylelong for four, nearing five years now,” he stated. “I love it because it’s an escape from what I know as Kyle the football player’s life. You run into people at Starbucks or whatever it is, and they say, ‘hey, you play football’. Well, in the online community, when I’m playing video games, people know me as Kyle Long the gamer. It’s a lot of fun to be able to mix and match those two communities and have a nice blend in the chat.”
Long’s decision to retire did not come easily, but he eventually knew that the writing was on the wall. Having missed 34 games in the last four seasons due to injury, he took a beating near the half-end of his career. As difficult as the decision was to make, he feels good about his choice to walk away from the game of football.
“It’s always tough, because the retirement’s not an overnight decision,” he detailed. “It’s something that, as you’re alluding to, you lead up to it. In my case, it took a while. It took a few years for my body to really fail, and when it did, I said, ‘hey, I don’t want to be out there, not able to move around, not feeling good’. I understand that football’s this big and life is this big, and I packed up my bags, and I walked out, and you know what? I’m happy for it. I don’t want to have to take the abuse if I can’t handle it physically.”
Prior to his run-ins with injuries, Long was one of the few cornerstones for the Bears during a down period in the franchise’s history. In a time when the team wasn’t putting together an altogether fantastic product on the field, he was one of their lone bright spots and grew into one of the best guards in the NFL at his peak.
Considering the struggles Chicago went through during his time with the team, he greatly enjoyed being a part of a playoff team in 2018, even though he was unable to play in the Bears’ wild card game against the Eagles due to a foot injury.
“My greatest memory with the Bears was probably winning the NFC North,” Long said. “Granted, I wasn't dressed out for that game, wasn’t healthy at the end of the year. Winning the NFC North was something I had never done, and I’d never been on a team that accomplished that. From a personal standpoint, three in a row Pro Bowls my first three years. That was really something to be proud of.”
Though the Bears put together an impressive 12-4 record in 2018, they failed to build off of their dominant performance this past season, as they fell to 8-8 and finished third in the NFC North. Part of that regression came because of a failure to improve on the offensive side of the ball, which prompted the Bears to be as aggressive as they could be for a cash-strapped team in the offseason.
Having traded a fourth-round pick for veteran quarterback Nick Foles, the Bears have added some competition for the starting quarterback spot currently held by Mitchell Trubisky, who has been the starter for much of the past three seasons. Chicago’s fanbase angrily clamored for competition to be brought in at the quarterback position before free agency, and Long thinks that the Bears have been able to silence those critics.
“I think the Bears have done a good job shutting a lot of people up, to be honest,” he explained. “People in Chicago—rightfully so—[are] passionate fans. When I first got to Chicago, I said, ‘is it like this in every city?’ Well, the truth is, it’s not. But having Nick Foles come to the Bears provides a true quarterback competition for Mitch [Trubisky], who’s never had that before. When he came to the Bears, you’ve got to keep mind Mike Glennon was there. It was an easy decision for them to throw in a young Trubisky, with athletic ability and some arm talent.”
While Long supports his former teammate and praised his competitive nature and hard-working demeanor, he also realizes that throwing Foles into the mix could realistically be a signal that the Bears don’t view Trubisky as their long-term starting quarterback.
“When Mitch drove up to Halas Hall two years ago or three years ago in his Toyota Camry,” he said. “It was his grandmother’s car, I believe—he had just left Chapel Hill, and in Chapel Hill he lost a quarterback competition. He was young, he didn’t realize he didn’t have perspective on what that could mean for him down the road, but he gets another opportunity, and if he is the competitor I think he is and I know he is, he’ll be able to come out on top. But if the writing’s on the wall and the Bears say, ‘hey, we’re bringing in a new guy’—which they’ve done, so the writing is on the wall—there are a number of other teams who could use a guy like Mitch Trubisky.”
With moves like the Foles signing having filled some needs through free agency, the Bears find themselves with plenty of options in the upcoming 2020 NFL draft. While Long didn’t mention specific prospects he has in mind, he has an idea as to which side of the ball they should target with their two second-round picks.
“In terms of prospects, I can’t speak to the individual guys,” he said. “There’s obviously a few guys, like any football fan, that are on my radar and, ‘okay, if my team ends up with him, that would be really nice’, but from a positional standpoint, from a necessity standpoint, Matt Nagy needs weapons at the tight end position. He needs guys who can provide that safety blanket like Lamar Jackson has in Baltimore, like Jimmy Garoppolo has in San Francisco. There’s All-Pros on those teams at those positions, and there’s a reason those quarterbacks have such success and comfort. Also, All-Pros—multiple—on those o-lines.”
The Bears did sign five-time Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham to a two-year deal in March, and Long views the veteran tight end as a valuable member of a locker room who still brings quite a bit to the table. Though he thinks the former All-Pro is still a talented player who has plenty of value for an offense, he does think they should still look to draft a tight end early, adding that Graham, who turns 34 in November, can serve as a mentor for a young prospect.
“I think Jimmy brings tremendous experience, a guy who’s been in a number of winning locker rooms around the NFL. Do not sell him short on athletic ability. Even if he’s over the hill, he can still dunk over you, so throw him the ball in the goal-line area and you’ve got a guy who’s a mismatch. Also, if you’re going to bring in those tight ends I was alluding to earlier, you need to have an older guy to develop them and get them to know the system.”
As the Bears prepare for life without Long and Long prepares for life without football, he has found peace in his decision to end his playing career. When looking back on his legacy and what he brought as a player and as a teammate, he hopes that history will remember him fondly.
“When my teammates talk about me down the road, I hope that they speak about a guy who is a good teammate, and somebody that they can count on, and somebody that was tough and worked hard.”
Make sure to tune in to Chris and Kyle Long’s Instagram livestream from Chris’ account on Friday, April 17 starting at 5 p.m. CT and raise a glass of whiskey to support bartenders in this time of need. Additionally, be sure to post a toast of your favorite alcoholic beverage on social media with the hashtag #GenerosityHour to help raise money for the USBG Bartender Emergency Assistance Fund. Must be 21 or older to participate.