Thirty-five Philadelphia-area kids were given the experience of a lifetime this week as they were invited to participate in a mini combine at the Eagles' NovaCare Complex before signing their names on the dotted line of a one-day contract with the club.
Tuesday's "Eagle for a Day" event was organized in association with REFORM Alliance, a non-profit which aims to transform probation and parole by changing laws, systems and culture to create real pathways to work and well-being.
Children directly affected by those trapped in the revolving door from probation/parole to prison were given a chance to escape as they caught passes from Philadelphia-based musician, Meek Mill, whose 2017 incarceration sparked a boosted awareness nationwide about the state of the criminal justice system, which prompted the founding of the REFORM Alliance in 2019.
"We really try to do two things," REFORM Alliance co-chair Michael Rubin said in an interview earlier this week. "One is, we want to give these kids an incredible experience. The other thing we want to do is use this to shed light because that's how you help change laws.
"We've been at this since 2019, we've passed 16 different laws in 10 states, and created a pathway to get 650,000 people off of probation."
Rubin, who has been a close personal friend of Mill throughout the years, helped create the REFORM Alliance along with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and musician Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, among others.
"We want them to believe in themselves, we want them to believe that the life they've seen and how they were brought up isn't the way they will live in the future," Rubin said. "We want them to dream big and do big things in the future."
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni, general manager Howie Roseman and quarterback Jalen Hurts provided words of encouragement during the event, while offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, cornerbacks Darius Slay and Avante Maddox, and tight end Dallas Goedert were among those giving kids pointers on the practice field, aiding their effort toward becoming teammates for a day.
For Mailata, an Australian-born import and the gleaming byproduct of the NFL's International Pathway Program, taking part in such events helps him better understand the trials and tribulations of the United States' criminal justice system through the experiences of these kids and from those of current and former teammates.
"I was really fortunate to be in the position that I came from, my story, my background, and it really just humbles you," Mailata said in a phone interview Wednesday. "When you hear some of the stories that the kids have been affected by, you just want to do anything in your power to help. Even if I wasn't an NFL player, if I didn't have this platform, I'd do everything I can to help a kid out. These kids go through some rough situations and that's the reason that I got involved. Just to give them a break from their reality.
"They really humble you and remind you of where you came from if you share the same the walk of life of these kids. That's why I do it. It humbles me. It's an opportunity to give back wherever I can. And to see the kids' faces at the end of the day; players don't understand that they make kids' days. They can make a kid's day or they can break it. That's what it's all about, just making a kid's day even if it was for a couple hours."
Entrenched in a season where Philadelphia currently owns the NFL's best record through 14 weeks and has Super Bowl LVII well within its sights, taking the time out of a busy schedule to make a difference shouldn't go unnoticed; however, with Eagles players also getting a momentary break from the physical and mental demands of the season, the kids don't leave without providing a beneficial escape themselves.
"Yep, 100 percent. Very therapeutic," Mailata said. "Takes you out of your reality that you live every day and reminds you of how small you really are in this universe."