By Rachel Jones | Photographs by Michael Fornataro | Art Direction by Jason Solak
Arguably one of the toughest defensive players in the NFL, Cam Heyward reveals his softer side and why giving back to the community means so much to him.
Inside the library at the Steelers’ South Side practice facility, the wall is bedecked with a mosaic of framed photos of significant standouts in the team’s history. Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Rocky Bleier, members of the Rooney family — crucial players, on and off the field, who have contributed to the Steelers’ honorable reputation. There’s a representative from every generation. And one for the current generation? He just walked through the door.
With a daunting build that’s quickly softened by his charismatic smile, Cam Heyward possesses all of the qualities to qualify for a spot on the wall. Besides his stellar game-day performances and defensive leadership, Cam is dedicated to serving the Pittsburgh community. A mission that stems from a genuine place, inspired by some of the greatest influences in his life.
When asked about his role models, Cam first names his mom, Charlotte Heyward, and his dad, the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, who played for the New Orleans Saints, the Chicago Bears, the Atlanta Falcons, the St. Louis Rams, and the Indianapolis Colts. “My mom and dad are two people I’ve really looked up to,” he says. “Not just my dad’s on-field success, but the way he was involved in the community and the way his legacy still lives on. Someone’s always got a story to tell.”
“But with my mom,” he continues, “just how hard she worked when my dad got sick. (Editor’s Note: Craig passed away in 2006 after battling cancer.) The way she took care of me and my brother, and showed me to put your head down and work. Just do whatever you can for your family. We were in a very fortunate situation growing up, so we were always big into giving back around the holidays. I praise her for her work and for getting us involved because not everybody’s as blessed as we are.”
Taking careful note of everything his mother taught him, Cam spends his precious free time spreading his generosity throughout the City of Pittsburgh. In addition to attending, chairing, and supporting a myriad of charitable events throughout the year, Cam also serves as the Steelers’ United Way spokesman, participating in NFL PLAY 60 clinics to encourage children to be active for 60 minutes every day and taking part in the annual NFL/United Way Hometown Huddle.
In the spring of 2015, Cam launched The Heyward House Foundation, creating a direct outlet for him to serve underprivileged kids. Through the organization, Cam and his crew work with the Boys and Girls Club, the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and KidsVoice, which supports children in the child-welfare system in Allegheny County’s Juvenile Court.
Even those who aren’t directly affected by his efforts were introduced to his compassionate character in October 2015, when Cam famously wrote “IRON HEAD” on his eye black as a tribute to his father for the Steelers-Chargers game. When the NFL slapped him with a $5,787 fine for violating the uniform policy, he not only accepted it without a fight, he also wore it again at the following game against the Arizona Cardinals, receiving an increased fine for his second offense. Before things escalated further, the NFL offered to decrease the fines if Cam agreed to honor Craig in different ways, on and off the field.
“After I was getting fined, the company [EyeBlack.com] reached out to us,” Cam says. “They made customized ones that said “IRON HEAD,” and they would donate half of the proceeds to a charity of my choice, which I chose the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation. Those are the things that touch my heart.”
As he embarks on his sixth season as a Pittsburgh Steeler, Cam hopes to inspire his teammates to be benevolent and honorable as well, the way some of his other role models — former Steelers Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu, and Aaron Smith — did for him. Cam recalls picking their brains on numerous occasions, asking for advice and soaking up their insight. “I love the way they handled themselves on and off the field,” he says. “They were ‘team first’ guys that never let their ego get in the way, and they’re living legends. They were guys that accomplished their goals and others’ goals as well.”
Cam’s current goal, besides adding to the row of Lombardi trophies that sits behind us as we chat, is to take all of the lessons and admirable qualities he’s picked up from all of his role models throughout the years and become someone his son, Callen Gray Heyward, can look up to, too. He says that means “definitely staying involved in the community; treating my wife [Allie] with kindness and patience, as she does with me; and being there for guidance. I’m going to be there for all of his events and make sure that he’s constantly around me, so he gets to see what I do on a daily basis to show him I work hard and I expect him to follow suit in whatever he does.”
Cam notes that Cal, who turns one in the fall, should acquire these attributes just by living in the Pittsburgh area. The blue-collar, hardworking mentality that Cam’s father embraced while playing for the University of Pittsburgh kept him, Cam, and the rest of the Heyward family respectful and respected as they focused on the truly important aspects of life.
“There’s not a lot of talking, a lot of flashiness. It’s about working hard to get what you deserve,” Cam says. “I have family here and they were raised this way as well. I’m just very humbled and blessed to be a part of an organization, a city that has core values like that. I wouldn’t choose any other place to be or play for. That’s why, when it came to signing, there was no doubt in my mind that if I had the opportunity, I would jump at the chance of playing with this team.”
“I played with a lot of Hall of Fame greats, especially on defense. I still think we have a lot of Hall of Fame players — some are improving, some are still creating their pedigrees.” — Cam Heyward