TAMPA, Fla. — Jameis Winston, Doug Martin and their Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates welcomed Special Olympics Florida athletes Saturday for an annual event that included Play 60 drills, dancing, cheers and autographs.
More than 50 Special Olympics athletes from Hillsborough County, as well as nearby Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties, participated in the event, which included watching practice with the cheerleaders and the Bucs’ mascot, Captain Fear, along with on-field festivities after practice.
Buccaneers players led the athletes to multiple stations that tested coordination and athleticism with cone drills, ladders, hitting a target with a football and even mat tackling.
Winston and Martin were joined by teammates Clinton McDonald, Kenny Bell, Alterraun Verner, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Gerald McCoy, Cameron Brate, Andrew DePaola, Bryan Anger, Donteea Dye and Kivon Cartwright. General manager Jason Licht and chief operating officer Brian Ford also stopped by to visit.
“Man, this is so much fun. This is way better than practice. Being able to interact with the guys and to see their spirit, it makes [camp] a lot easier,” said McDonald, who challenged one of the participants to a foot race and celebrated with another Cam Newton, Superman-style. “Great guys, great athletes out here working.”
Winston also got in on the celebrating. After one athlete nailed his target, both bounced up and down in perfect unison from opposite sides of the station. “That’s the Deion Sanders!” Winston exclaimed.
“We have some great guys, they’re professionals,” Winston said of the Special Olympics athletes. “I’m fearing for my job right now, but they listened, they worked hard and showed out.”
Winston added, “Just spending time with them, that’s the best part. Seeing their lives and connecting with them. Most of them know who I am, but it feels good because they be like, ‘Who are you again?’ [And] I’m just like, ‘Yes! He doesn’t know who I am, so we can actually have true friendship!’ So it’s pretty cool.”
While Winston was unquestionably the most popular current Tampa Bay player, athletes and volunteers were ecstatic when former Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber stopped by. He was on hand for the team’s annual Alumni Day and he posed for every picture and autograph asked of him.
Afterward, players and athletes huddled up for one final cheer, before lots of hugs and special handshakes. “It’s fun, you feel that energy,” Winston said. “They’re playing, they’re having fun. You just see what life is really about.”