Growing up, NFL star Joe Haden took one request from his parents to heart: "Protect your brother, Jacob."

It was a commitment that came to light back in 1998, when he was just 9 years old. Jacob, who was only 4 at that time, nearly drowned in a swimming pool.

Luckily, Joe was there to save him.


"Honestly, I didn't think for one second that he was gone," Joe told ESPN, which recently profiled the 26-year-old athlete. "I just wouldn't let myself even get to the thought."

GIF via ESPN.

Joe has always been a protective older brother to Jacob, who has a cognitive disorder.

In fact, they're each others' "#1." Jacob, whose disorder impairs his speech, gave Joe the nickname because Joe was born first. But Joe considers Jacob his #1 because he's a source of inspiration — on and off the field.

"Life wouldn't be the same without him," Joe told ESPN. He plays cornerback for the Cleveland Browns.

"That's kind of why, when I play, I play so hard, and I play with so much passion, emotion. Because I love the game and know my man, Jake — he can't do it. ... I'm playing for the both of us."

Inspired by his brother, this year Joe became the first NFL player to be named a Special Olympics global ambassador.

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

The recognition has allowed Joe to bring visibility to people with disabilities during the 2015 Special Olympics, taking place July 25 through Aug. 2, 2015, in Los Angeles.

"Growing up, my brother had the opportunity to participate in the Special Olympics movement and through my involvement, I learned first-hand the tremendous value of playing sports with, and learning from, people with intellectual disabilities," Joe said in a statement.

The role has given him the opportunity to speak out on one word in particular that hits close to home.

Joe hasn't beaten around the bush when it comes to his thoughts on the R-word.

The word "retarded," which originated as a clinical description for a person with an intellectual or developmental disability, has devolved into slang often used to demean someone's intellect. Clearly, there's no reason to use the outdated term today.

That's no news to Joe. He made his take on the word very clear when he chatted with ESPN in July 2015:

(In case you're still wondering if there are certain situations in which the R-word is appropriate to use, this handy flow chart should help you out.)

Joe's message is part of a growing movement to end the R-word.

An online initiative launched in 2009, Spread the Word to End the Word, has garnered more than 570,000 signatures in support of eliminating "the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech." You can pledge your support here.

Thanks to groups like Spread the Word to End the Word and people like Joe, hearts and minds are changing.

A little bit of brotherly love can spark a lot of good.

GIF via ESPN.

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