Colts Vice Chair & Owner Kalen Jackson: Leading the Irsay Family’s Kicking The Stigma Campaign

armel Clay Schools Serving

April 2021

It is with great pleasure that we are featuring Kalen Jackson—one of Jim Irsay’s daughters and a Colts vice chair/owner—on this month’s cover. Jackson, along with Irsay and sisters Carlie Irsay-Gordon and Casey Foyt, are hosting a four-day virtual fundraiser in May to support Kicking The Stigma, a campaign launched by the Irsay family.

Irsay Family's Kicking the Stigma

Kicking The Stigma’s focus is twofold: raising awareness about the prevalence of mental health disorders in our communities and raising and distributing funding to nonprofits and other organizations to expand treatment services throughout the community.

The Story Behind the Cause

The effort grew out of the NFL’s annual My Cause My Cleats campaign, where players and coaches wear specially painted cleats during a game highlighting a nonprofit or cause of their choice. This year, Irsay and Colts vice chairs/owners Carlie Irsay-Gordon and Kalen Jackson participated and wore shoes bringing awareness to common mental disorders.

Irsay Family's Kicking the Stigma

The Irsay family’s own personal experiences with mental health and substance use is the source of the family’s passion and dedication to helping raise awareness and for “normalizing” the conversation.

“For us, that’s part of the campaign,” Jackson shared. “It’s no secret that we have a very public experience with mental health issues and my dad’s recovery from substance use issues. These issues affected each of us in our individual ways, but we’ve always been very open and willing to discuss these topics to help people in our lives and, in turn, help them to get rehab and have even paid for rehab or doctors visits. The reality is as much as there are services out there, there’s an even bigger issue with being able to afford those services.”

Acknowledging that there is a gap in workforce development in this area is something that Jackson said they are learning more about the further they delve into this space.

Irsay Family's Kicking the Stigma

“There are so many sectors of this that need help,” Jackson said. “The common thread that has been in all of our discussions is stigma. That’s the first barrier to break through before we can get to the laundry list of items that we’d like to help with. Everyone has a story around this, and it’s heartbreaking. So many people feel helpless, and it feels as if, under the surface, people have been waiting for someone to care and put forth an effort like this. What’s been so beautiful about this [campaign] is that so many people locally AND nationally have reached out. Some are just saying ‘thank you’ and some are asking what they can do to help.”

Celebrities and Athletes Coming Together to Make a Huge Impact

Jackson shared that the virtual fundraiser will be an annual event—hopefully in person next year—in May as it is Mental Health Awareness month.

“You do not have to donate to watch the videos,” Jackson explained. “Yes, we want to raise funds, and we want to be able to put them into the right hands to create more services and train more people, but we want to also create awareness and normalize the conversation by removing the shame that’s too often associated with any of these illnesses. We want to make sure that people know its OK to not be OK and that it’s OK to seek and ask for help without being judged for it.”

Jackson added, “I think part of us just wants to educate people more on what [mental illnesses] look like and try to put a face and a story to a lot of these titles. We’re trying to tell the story and to understand the people—not just see the headlines.”

Irsay Family's Kicking the Stigma

“I’m honored to join the Colts and the Irsay family in their Kicking The Stigma initiative,” Carson Daly said. “Mental health advocacy is a cause I feel passionately about, and removing the stigma associated with mental health illnesses and disorders is imperative.”

“I’m thrilled to see an NFL team make an impact in this space, and I’m also proud to serve with [Colts vice chair and owner] Kalen Jackson as board members for Project Healthy Minds, an organization dedicated to confronting the mental health crisis,” Daly added. “We want to normalize the mental health conversation [and] educate and support individuals who might be struggling with a mental health disorder but are hesitant to seek help.”

Funds raised will go toward a new Kicking The Stigma Fund, which will support expanded programming by Mental Health America (MHA) Indiana, NAMI Greater Indianapolis, Project Healthy Minds and Bring Change to Mind. The fund also will provide grants to Indiana-based nonprofits working in education, support and advocacy of mental health.

Laying the Groundwork for the Cause

To begin this effort, the Irsay family produced a 60-second public service announcement in collaboration with the legendary rock band R.E.M., using their chart-topping song “Everybody Hurts.” The PSAs, featuring Irsay, Jackson and Leonard, have aired in national rotation, as well as locally in Indianapolis.

Irsay Family's Kicking the Stigma

“R.E.M. is proud to contribute ‘Everybody Hurts’ to the Colts and the Irsay family in support of ‘Kicking the Stigma,’” said Mike Mills, a founding member of R.E.M. “If we can reduce the stigma around mental illness, more people will seek and receive treatment.”

In addition to producing and airing the PSA nationally, the Irsays have committed more than $4 million in the past year to expand treatment services in Indiana, including to

  • Indiana University Health. This gift will help fund the expansion of the IU Health West Addiction Treatment Recovery Center.
  • Ascension St. Vincent Stress Center. This gift will be used to support and enhance the comprehensive array of treatment and care provided at the Ascension St. Vincent Stress Center, including specialized treatment for a variety of mental and behavioral health issues in both youth and adults.
  • Suburban North Club. These funds will help build a new facility for the organization, which serves as a meeting location for Alcoholics Anonymous clubs in Indianapolis.
  • Expanded local programming by community partners. In addition to money raised during the May event, the Irsays also are donating funding to help MHA Indiana, NAMI Greater Indianapolis, Project Healthy Minds and Bring Change to Mind expand their services in Indiana.
Irsay Family's Kicking the Stigma

Join us May 3–6 as we kick off national Mental Health Awareness Month with a four-day virtual fundraiser to support Kicking The Stigma, an Irsay family initiative to raise awareness about mental health disorders and to remove the shame and stigma too often associated with these illnesses.

Sponsors of the event include Huntington Bank, Indiana University Health and Lucas Oil Products. For more information, visit Colts.com/KTS.

The fundraiser, scheduled for May 3–6, will feature a different theme each day and will be highlighted by:

  • A roundtable hosted by Carson Daly of NBC’s “The Today Show” and “The Voice,” with NFL players Darius Leonard (Colts), Hayden Hurst (Atlanta Falcons) and Solomon Thomas and Darren Waller (Las Vegas Raiders) sharing their personal experiences with mental health.
  • An online auction with unique experiences with or signed memorabilia from actor and comedian Jim Gaffigan; former Colts Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne and Jeff Saturday; Colts general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich; and current Colts Carson Wentz and Darius Leonard.
  • Unique digital and social content and story sharing, featuring testimonials and messages from Oscar-winning writer and director Cameron Crowe, actor Rob Lowe, actor and comedian Mike Epps, as well as Frank and Linda Reich, Manning, Dungy, Daly and others.