Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward joined The V Foundation’s “Voices for Victory” podcast to discuss growing up with an NFL father, the inspiration of his philanthropic efforts and playing for head coach Mike Tomlin.
His father, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, played eleven seasons in the NFL as a running back and fullback, rushing for 4,301 yards and 30 touchdowns and was recently inducted into the Pitt Hall of Fame.
The elder Heyward’s career was unfortunately cut short in 1998 when he was diagnosed with cancer, the disease that would tragically take his life eight years later.
Cam discussed what it was like growing up with an NFL player for a dad, and some of his fondest memories of his father growing up.
“I always get to hear about the stories, and about the interactions he has with people at Children’s Hospital, or just everyday people,” Heyward said. “He did a great job of always having moments with people. And always making people remember those times.”
Cam went on to say that in addition to being inspired by former Steelers teammates to give, it was the experience he shared with his father battling cancer that truly moved him to become a hero in the community.
“I always knew I wanted to give back to kids, and also to cancer research just because I was a kid, and I was always in the hospital as a kid,” he said. “I had great doctors and nurses that helped me along the way. And cancer research just because my dad has been affected by that, and on a regular day, my dad would visit other patients and just interact with them.”
The nine-year veteran also offered words of advice to kids that may have a parent battling cancer just like he did.
“I just tell people rely on your support system, and make sure you listen, because from an exterior point of view, they’re going to have a lot more to say and see why you’re going through.”
Cam also spoke about what it is like playing for Mike Tomlin, and the qualities that he believes make him a great leader.
“In adverse situations, he’s very steady. I don’t think he, he’s not looking to throw the whole playbook out and completely change the way we play,” he said. “As a leader, you have to be able to set a precedent and make sure the guys can rally around you.
“And I think the other thing he does is he’s consistent with that. From the beginning of offseason to the end of the season, he has preached the same message. And I think that resonates with a lot of older guys and younger guys, because that consistency can be brought through anywhere in our organization, in our staff, through each player. They know what’s expected of them, he challenges us and he’s honest with us as well.”
Selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Heyward is entering his tenth season in Pittsburgh. His 79 tackles-for-loss are the fourth-most in franchise history.
Heyward has made the Pro Bowl each of the last three seasons, and has been named First-Team All-Pro twice over his career, including in 2019.
Founded in 1993 by ESPN and legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano, the V Foundation has awarded more than $250 million in grants and has “become one of the premier supporters of cutting-edge cancer research.”
Listen to the V Foundation’s entire interview with Cam Heyward here.