Packers RB Aaron Jones surprises 12-year-old who designed his custom cleats, and it made them both smile

Kendra Meinert
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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Ethan Haley has a smile that could light up a football stadium, but it’s his flashy artwork and Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones' fancy footwork that will put him in the spotlight at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The 12-year-old from Rochester, New York, designed the cleats Jones will wear for the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s part of My Cause My Cleats, the NFL’s annual campaign in which players raise awareness for a nonprofit organization or a cause of their choosing by wearing custom-designed cleats.

Jones partnered with Northwestern Mutual Foundation's childhood cancer program to benefit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based foundation that raises funds to support pediatric cancer research and families affected by childhood cancer. 

Twelve-year-old Ethan Haley of Rochester, New York, designed the cleats Packers running back Aaron Jones will wear Sunday for the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign. The shoes support Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and raise awareness for childhood cancer research.

“Kids battling cancer are fighting every day, taking on a challenge that they didn’t choose and grinding through it,” Jones said in a Green Bay Press-Gazette interview done via email. “I want to honor their courage and strength and let them know that I see them working hard and staying positive.”

Ethan is one of those cancer fighters. 

After having bouts with dizziness and double vision, he was diagnosed in early 2018 with anaplastic ependymoma, multiple tumors on his brain and spinal cord. He has undergone surgeries, more than 80 rounds of radiation and physical therapy to learn to walk again in the 2½ years since the cancer was discovered.

An MRI in November 2019 showed he was free of tumors, but four new ones were discovered in his head in February. With surgery no longer an option, he underwent more radiation treatments. Another MRI in August showed the tumors in his spine and head were growing. More radiation. He’s now in a wheelchair and on palliative care. 

He continues to be the bright light in the Haley home he shares with his parents, Nate and Kristen, and his four siblings. He loves to read, build with Legos and draw. He’s a huge fan of New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and likes the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Bonaventure University Bonnies basketball team.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones will wear these colorful cleats designed by Ethan Haley, a 12-year-old from Rochester, New York, with anaplastic ependymoma, for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

When Northwestern Mutual announced the contest to design Jones’ cleats, Kristen knew it was right up his alley.

“I wanted to show how my cancer journey has had so many colorful moments,” Ethan said of his design by email with the help of his parents. “The colors show how I’ve come from darkness to light. There are so many dark moments, but there are also so many light moments. So much happiness.”

His vibrant work caught the eye of Jones, who has been known to turn a few heads with his colorful game day sombrero. He chose it as the winner. Marvin Baroota of SoLegit Customs took Ethan's design and brought it to life. 

“I love all of the colors and checkerboard design. It’s going to really pop on the field," Jones said. "I can’t wait to rock them."

He shared the good news with Ethan and his family during a surprise video call that brought out Ethan's big smile.

“I’ve never won something before,” Ethan said. He received a Jones jersey, his own pair of those custom-made cleats and a Packers Pro Shop gift card.

"We've got matching cleats, man," Jones told him.

As an NFL star, Jones knows kids look up to him, but having the opportunity to talk with Ethan and see how strong he has been through his fight turned the tables on him.

“I was truly humbled to meet Ethan and his family. It tugged on the heartstrings a bit, but in an uplifting way, because his smile and positivity is so infectious,” Jones said. “As a father, I definitely think about all of the kids and their families facing this challenge each day and I’m so inspired by their fight.”

He told Ethan he was "a true warrior."  "Anytime I'm having a bad day I'm going to think about you and that smile and think, 'What would Ethan be doing right now?' And you'd be smiling," Jones said.

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones shows off his custom-made cleats for the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign.

The Haleys will be watching the Eagles-Packers game on Sunday, and with full hearts when they see Ethan’s cleats rushing down the field. 

“We are blessed to know he’s been given this opportunity to have a ‘voice’ to share his beliefs and feelings,” the Haleys said. “We are just a regular family who happens to be walking this incredibly difficult cancer journey, but we know that bringing awareness to childhood cancer could help families catch it sooner and fund research. ... To see Aaron wearing our son’s cleat design is almost unbelievable.”

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Contact Kendra Meinert at 920-431-8347 or Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert

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