Eric Decker and Jessie James-Decker come from different backgrounds and have different careers. Eric spent his entire childhood in Cold Spring, Minnesota, where he starred in football, basketball and baseball. He now plays for the New York Jets and previously played for the Denver Broncos.
Jessie was born in Vicenza, Italy, to a military family and bounced around the country during her youth. She is now a country singer/songwriter.
When establishing their own foundation, the two co-stars of "Eric & Jessie Game On" could not narrow their foundation's interest down to one field. They had to make it diverse. It had to fit both their personas.
Eric and Jessie had been devoting their charitable efforts to Deckers Dogs, a subsection of Freedom Service Dogs of America, which strives to "fund the rescue, care and training of a service dog for military veterans returning home with disabilities."
The Eric + Jessie Decker Foundation, which launched in July, will incorporate Deckers Dogs into a wider plan of action that includes anti-bullying. The foundation's platform focuses on three areas:
1. Services for U.S. Military Veterans, including through the rescue and training of service dogs via the Decker Foundation's founding program, Decker's Dogs. EJDF is committed to continuing to partner with Freedom Service Dogs of America as well as expanding the breadth of its work with veterans in need.
2. EJDF partners with non-profit organizations committed to putting a stop to bullying and building self-confidence in children who have been victims of bullying.
3. EJDF partners with non-profit organizations which run after-school programs focused on keeping kids off the streets, providing a safe environment and fostering the growth and development of valuable life skills.
"I think being at the level I am as a professional athlete and my wife being able to touch so many people, we want to give back in a way that is important to both of us," Eric says.
Jessie grew up in a military family, as her father, Steve, serves in the U.S. Air Force. She moved around the United States, lacking a definite home. Jessie's hit single, "Military Man" is a tribute to her father, a wing commander in the 914th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
"She, being a military kid, growing up and having to move to a lot of places, it's part of her," Eric says. "Also, just respecting the military's fight for our country -- I think that's made Deckers Dogs fitting."
Deckers Dogs' mission is to rescue shelter dogs and train them to be companion dogs for military veterans. Deckers Dogs has rescued two dogs at a cost of $25,000 each and the organization is close to rescuing a third dog.
For Eric, the anti-bullying aspect of EJDF is also close to his heart. Eric was a junior at Ricori High School at the time of the school's tragic shooting in which John Jason McLaughlin murdered two other students. After the incident, Ricori students described McLaughlin as "quiet and withdrawn."
Decker may be a macho football player on the field, but off the field, this incident still lingers with his psyche.
"I think a lot of those issues stem from being picked on and bullied, whether it's verbal or physical," Eric says. "These kids are being abused in a way. I think it's important to teach those kids and everyone how to have self-confidence and learn to communicate. With social media right now, it's changed the world of how people communicate. I think we need to help kids with their character, values and everything in life."
After getting married in June 2013, Eric and Jessie gave birth to their first child, daughter Vivianne Rose Decker, in March.
"I have a kid now," Eric says of bullying issues. "I'd never want my kid to ever go through with that."
Jessie's Southern Belle beauty and musical fame might suggest otherwise, but as a child, she faced bullying issues as a student. As someone who constantly moved, she constantly faced challenges.
"She always had to make new friends. If she didn't fit in with the crowd, she'd get picked on," Eric says. "It's hard when you're young and still developing and have those experiences."
For the Deckers, it is certainly a plus to be able to launch the foundation in their new home city. While Deckers Dogs had success in Denver, the ceiling is raised in New York. Along with the reach of the New York Jets, the Deckers have a city of 8 million people and more in the suburbs.
"I think the opportunities are endless with how many people are here," Eric says. "The businesses and the military aspect with what happened on 9/11 -- it's close to home out here, especially with some of the bases not being far from New York City. There's the ability to network, to meet people that want to be a part of something special, to give back and to really get that satisfaction of changing someone's life and helping them in their life. I'm excited to use this city to open up those opportunities I may have."
Along with having a charitable presence, the Deckers are ecstatic to embrace New York's deep and diverse population. Eric and Jessie were previously active in the Denver community, but now hope to engage with individuals in New York. This goes along with their Nashville home.
"You play somewhere, you're a figurehead of this city, this team. They want to at least put the face and name together with this person," Eric says.
On July 19, Eric hosted the 2014 Citi Eric Decker Football ProCamp. A few hundred children in grades 1-8 attended the three-and-a-half hour training session at Boonton High School in New Jersey. Decker took the his new students through a series of lessons, drills and games. For many young Jets fans, this was their first opportunity to come face-to-face with Gang Green's newest star wide receiver.
Of the attendees at the ProCamps event, 10 individuals participated thanks to a sponsorship from EJDF and ProCamps. The 10 campers were selected in conjunction with the New York Jets from Ivy Hill of Newark Pop Warner based on their on-field play and sportsmanship.
"When I was 8 years old and 14 years old, I looked up to the high schoolers, college kids and NFL players. I wanted to be like them," Eric says. "If I have a chance to meet these kids, the impact I may have on their lives, whether it is athletically or as a person, is special."
As for his on-field endeavors, Decker and the Jets opened training camp last week in Cortlandt, N.Y. After four seasons for the Broncos, Decker will be playing for a new team for the first time this season. All signs point to Decker being the Jets' No. 1 receiver.
"I think new opportunities and new challenges create excitement," he says. "It's kind of like I'm starting all over again. I feel like a freshman or a rookie. I have to prove myself."
There is an obvious culture shock between the Broncos and the Jets. Denver boasts Peyton Manning at quarterback and a roster with such names as Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, DeMarcus Ware, Ryan Clady and Von Miller. Coach John Fox brought the team to the Super Bowl last season, his second trip as a head coach. As a franchise, the Broncos have two Super Bowl titles in seven appearances.
The Jets enlist a youthful roster with a limited number of household names. Mike Vick and Chris Johnson are probably the two most popular faces, but both appear to be past their prime. Rex Ryan has no journeys to the Super Bowl as a head coach, and his antics sometimes overshadow wins and losses.
"Rex is the best," Decker says. "He's a player's coach. What you see is what you get with him."
The Jets' history is long, but lacks success. Gang Green won its only Super Bowl bout, the 1969 Super Bowl III upset spearhead by "Broadway" Joe Namath. The Jets have only two division titles since the one ring.
Today, the Jets' biggest concern may be choosing a starting quarterback among Vick, second-year arm Geno Smith, sixth-round pick Taj Boyd and Matt Simms.
"We have some things we need to figure out through camp," Decker says. "Every team is in the same boat. It's all about just taking it one day at a time. You're either getting better or getting worse. You don't stay the same. That's how I work, so I'm trying to get better every day."
Decker will make his Meadowlands debut Sept. 7 when the Jets open the season versus the Oakland Raiders, although a few hundred children already got an up-close glimpse at the team's new star.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.