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Chris Long pledging portion of salary to start early-literacy program

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Chris Long launches literacy program. Alicia Vitarelli reports during Action News at Noon on September 28, 2018.

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long is pledging a quarter of his 2018 salary to launch the "First Quarter for Literacy" drive to help increase early literacy among young children.

Partnering with the United Way and in support of Philadelphia's Read By Fourth campaign, the goal is to put more books into the hands of kids in underserved neighborhoods and raise awareness about the direct connection between early-reading proficiency and quality of life over the long term.


"Kids don't have a choice. Kids don't pick their parents, they don't pick their economic background, they don't pick the neighborhood they grew up in, they don't pick any of the factors that can hold them back, they don't pick their school system," Long said. "So [investing in them], it just feels like you're doing something productive. ... I just feel like this is something where you're going to see results."

In Philadelphia, Chris and Megan Long will distribute more than 25,000 books for children in underserved neighborhoods to build at-home libraries, as well as fund the creation of three Chris Long Book Nooks that serve as neighborhood-based reading areas for families. They are encouraging others to donate books by visiting FirstQuarterForLiteracy.org.

Long's base salary this season is $2.5 million. After taxes, he'll be committing about $400,000 to the initiative.

This is the second straight year that Long has donated game checks to invest in others' education. Last season, he used his $1 million salary to provide scholarships for two people in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, and to launch the "Pledge 10 for Tomorrow" campaign, which raised more than $1.75 million for organizations dedicated to promoting educational equity and opportunity in the three cities where Long has played: St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia.

"I just feel like when you tie in football, which people are crazy about, to a cause that maybe people aren't as aware of, and use your platform to educate people on some of the dire needs we have, you get them excited and they give," Long said. "That's what happened last year, and hopefully it happens this year."

The Longs will also match donations up to $25,000 for any player on an opposing road team this year who wants to donate funds to distribute books to communities in their playing market. Long's former teammate Beau Allen, now playing defensive tackle for the Buccaneers, kicked off the matching portion of the drive by giving $5,000 during Week 2, when the Eagles played Tampa Bay. With the match, The Chris Long Foundation will donate $10,000 worth of books to the Tampa community.

Long was compelled to focus on literacy this year after coming across some overwhelming statistics during his research, which he rattled off during a conversation with ESPN:

Children who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school -- six times as likely when the children are also born into poverty.

By age 3, there is a 30-million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families.

34 percent of children entering kindergarten lack the basic language skills needed to learn how to read.

In 2016 and '17, almost two-thirds of kids in Philadelphia entered fourth grade unable to read at grade level.

"This is why it ties into social justice, under the umbrella of that topic, because literacy by fourth grade is a big indicator for when a kid is going to drop out of school, and subsequently rates of incarceration. If you go down to some of the most incarcerated states in the country and you look at literacy rates, there is a correlation there," he said.

"I want people to read the stuff I'm reading and see how dire of a need there is for us to raise the bar here because it's just a huge indicator. There is a direct correlation between how well a kid is reading by fourth grade and how their life is going to go."

By partnering with the United Way, there is an arm to this initiative that will help educate parents about how to read to their children, offering better tactics and tools to help accelerate their learning process.

"I hope that it changes parents' perspectives on how important it is, and how much they should cherish their time with their kids at night, reading 20 minutes a day, and the books that they have," Long said. "It's changed things for me."
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