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Ray Roberts is a champion for Special Olympics athletes

His job used to require protecting quarterbacks and opening pathways for Barry Sanders as an offensive tackle for the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks. Now, Roberts helps create pathways for children with intellectual disabilities — although he cringes a little when the word “disabilities” is used. He offers ideas and backup for administrators who want to try to help these kids achieve.

A year ago, Roberts’ role for this week’s Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle went from being an ambassador to that of a full-time employee. Special Olympics hired Roberts to become director of Unified Champion Schools for urban development. He was encouraged to apply after Marc Edenzon, the president and managing director of Special Olympics North America, heard him speak. Roberts had been working with Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based program helping low-income kids graduate college, and Edenzon was impressed by Roberts’ story.cheap nfl authentic jerseys

A Unified Champion School for the Special Olympics uses a combination of unified sports (sports combining students with and without intellectual disabilities), inclusive leadership programs and whole-school engagement as a way to promote acceptance, respect and inclusion for all students. The new position is how he ended up in Lower Manhattan on this June afternoon, spreading his message and learning about P.S. 721M’s programs.49

The kids asked the same questions any high school student might: How tall are you? (6-foot-6 ½ and around 275 pounds.) Did Barry Sanders really give you a Rolex? (Yes.) Why did you wear No. 72? (In honor of Ed “Too Tall” Jones.) Do you know Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson? (Yes.)

The students he’s talking with, though, have been told they are different their entire lives. That they can’t do things even though, in many cases, they can. It’s why Roberts dug in on his inspirational messages.

Professional athlete, teacher, firefighter — these are all jobs kids dream of having — but Roberts says along the way, dreams get altered. “We encounter the world,” Roberts tells the students. “And then the world starts telling you what you can and can’t do.”official nfl jerseys cheap

A week later, teachers re-introduced Roberts’s message in classroom discussions. “It kind of made clear to them, if it’s not blatantly, there’s almost this subliminal message of ‘You’re in special ed and you have that label,'” said Joe Stewart, a physical education teacher at P.S. 721M. “So I think one of the things that our students have to overcome is just the label and the stigma of having an intellectual disability and what those expectations are. Ray’s message of ‘Do you remember those dreams that you have, and what you really thought of yourself as a person before the world told you that you’re this or you’re that or you have a disability and you can’t do this,’ it’s powerful.”