Awareness • Early Detection • Treatment • Research • Survivorship

NFL star Chris Draft keeps pledge to late wife by taking cancer patients to Wembley game

An American Football player will this weekend honour a wedding-day pledge to his late wife when he takes two cancer patients to a showpiece NFL game at Wembley Stadium. #NFLUK 

By Ross Lydall

Chris Draft, 40, a linebacker who retired in 2010, established a charity with his wife Keasha to support patients and raise awareness of the dangers of lung cancer. The Survivor at Every Stadium initiative takes patients to NFL matches across the US and has now spread to London, where the Washington Redskins will play the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Mr Draft has invited Tracy Gordon and James Jukes, who are receiving treatment at Guy’s Cancer Centre, to the match after meeting one of the £160 million hospital’s top doctors, consultant medical oncologist Dr Rohit Lal.

His wife Keasha Rutledge Draft died of lung cancer aged 38 in December 2011, a month after they married. An “energetic, vibrant young woman” who had never smoked, her stage IV cancer was only discovered a year earlier when she felt a slight shortness of breath.

Mr Draft, who played for the Redskins, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers among other teams in a 12-year career, told the Standard: “She made a commitment at our wedding for us to help other people. It’s not about her. It’s about the other people.”

The Team Draft initiative, part of the Chris Draft Family Foundation, aims to tackle the “stigma” surrounding lung cancer that it is a “smoker’s disease” and encourage people to lead healthy lifestyles. The couple met in 2006 while he was playing for the Carolina Panthers. Keasha, a university graduate with a degree in electrical engineering, was a professional dancer and cheerleader.

Mr Draft, who next week will be honoured by the American Cancer Society for his work, said: “My wife had a tremendous group of doctors and friends who made sure if she had any questions, they were answered. Our commitment is to empower all our survivors and make sure they can get to the answers. “It doesn’t mean it’s all going to work out and they will survive. But there is something to be said for really knowing about lung cancer and being on top of it.”

He will visit Guy’s Cancer centre tomorrow as part of his first visit to the capital. @RossLydall